Local research specialists www.research-plus.co.uk recently found there are over fifty business networking organisations in the Norwich area alone! When I started networking I can only recall a handful. My contentious proposal is that this tenfold increase is far too many. My concern is that the local business community is not expanding fast enough to support all these networks. Potential attendees only have a finite amount of time to spend networking. Therefore they are becoming more selective e.g. I now only attend those that interest me and/or that I enjoy.

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The result of people being selective like that is an increasing trend of low turnouts and cancelled events due to inadequate support. This is where, from experience, I have major empathy for those running networking events and finding themselves struggling to achieve viable numbers. Recently I have attended networking events with only 10 or so other people. Whilst often pleasant, unless those people are strangers to you, it may not be productive. Remember this is a business activity so you should surely be focusing on income-generating activities?

Another issue is regularly returning to the same group and meeting the same people. I fully recognise the BNI (Business Network International) concept of getting to know people in order to access their contacts. The issue emerges when a group of people already know and trust you well enough to freely recommend you when the opportunity arises.

Would you then be better focusing on strangers (who may be friends you have not met yet) in other groups whose mate could turn out to be Richard Branson?

A feature of local networks is that the same faces tend to appear. I am not knocking that since I too have been known to attend the opening of an envelope just to get my face in the place. The tendency though is to gravitate towards known people rather than seek out new blood. I suspect some regular networkers may consider me a little ruthless when I (always) politely leave their company to meet/greet a stranger. Sorry, but I am prioritising my time – you should be too.

Newcomers to networking groups should also be made warmly welcome. I have watched seasoned networkers stand chatting to their fellow group members while a newcomer stands alone. At times I have been that newcomer. Guess my thoughts of such groups?

There is also the human psychological element of wanting to belong to a group. It certainly can be lonely for small businesses and a support group may be the ideal remedy. What you must decide is whether it is simply therapy for you. If so, it could be costing you dearly in your time (including what income you could otherwise be generating) as well as networking fees, meals, petrol etc.

In summary I am encouraging you to consider seriously how you manage your networking time:

1. Be selective. Explore networks that are new to you but be prepared to dump them if unsuitable.

2. Prioritise what you want from networking – new income or a support group. If the latter recognise it comes with a potentially high cost – can you afford it? It is possible to achieve both income and support from networking, but maintain the balance and watch the cost.

3. If you are involved in a network throw all efforts into attracting new visitors/members. Then greet them as Guests of Honour when they turn up.

4. Be assertive (not aggressive) and move on to meet different people if your conversation becomes stale. The other person may be wanting to lose you too but they are also too polite to instigate the separation.

5. If you are considering setting up a new Norwich network, beware. Saturation point has already been exceeded in my view.

So, have I upset some of you seasoned networkers? Hopefully I have got you thinking. For newcomers, get out there and get networking. Until you try a network you will not know if it is suitable for you. However, if you choose to return ensure it is ‘networking’ rather than ‘notworking’.

As qualifications for the following diatribe, here is my business Networking CV:

• 2000-2004 Business Network International (BNI) including being Chapter Director.

• 2005-2011 Antidote business network – Partner.

• 2000-2012 I also joined many other networks e.g. 4Networking, Norfolk Network, Netwalking and many others. Also I train people in networking confidently and easily.

Chris Liles is a mentor for small businesses aspiring to be bigger.

4 comments

  • Delighted my blog thoughts interested you. Do not give up on networking. In my extensive experience it CAN be by far the best and most cost-effective form of promotion for many businesses - if managed well. I am happy to fast-track your success by pointing you towards local networks that I feel will suit you. Uncross your fingers and drop me a line via chris@liles.co.uk

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    Chris Liles

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

  • An interesting blog post- I agree with some of the points and am equally shocked at the poor 'Customer Service' of some networks; I hate the groups- whether real or virtual that people think they can hard sell to you. It is vitally important that businesses find the network that suits them in terms of time of day, cost, benefit gained from it and usefulness (learning key skills updating thoughts from speaker presentations) There isn't a one size fits all, and is 50 a good number for our dynamic city

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    RedCatSarah

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

  • An interesting piece Chris. I think networking can be very valuable, and you're right you need to find the right network for you and your business, and you need to have an objective and follow up with people to make it effective. But I'm not sure I agree fully with your comment: "2. Prioritise what you want from networking – new income or a support group. If the latter recognise it comes with a potentially high cost – can you afford it?" It's one thing to go to a network because it distracts you from building your business, that's never going to be a good use of your time., It's another thing entirely to choose to go because it's the right peer group for you. Studies have shown that your peer group is the one of the most, if it not the most influential factors in your success, health, happiness and income. Choosing a network that allows you to spend time with a peer group that aides your mindset, your enthusiasm in your business, that stretches your goals, even if it doesn't lead to business is worth while in my view. But I have to ask, if you're getting all the other things from the network, how probable is it that you're not also receiving recommendations and referrals? Especially if you continue you to strengthen relations on line as well as offline. Eg Twitter is an outstanding tool for recommending business people to those looking for their services. I believe it's a question of valuing your time, the more you value your time, the more you'll look to assess what activities your choose to participate in and whether or not they're serving you and your business well, and that includes how you network.

    Bridget.JPG

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    Bridget Greenwood

    Friday, May 18, 2012

  • This is so interesting and right on the ball in my limited networking experience. I have attended a couple of networking events and suffered all the same issues. Being ignored as a nervous newcomer, the organiser talking to us and walking off mid sentence (am I boring you?), all the same people sitting at the same tables with the same people having the same conversation. My impressions are that they tend to be a bit stale. My business partner and I are going to try a couple more and see how they go - I think the right networking opportunity is out there for us - but it may take up allot of our valuable time finding it, and will it be worth it? Fingers crossed.

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    A business with big ambitions

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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