A friend called the other day and said: “Tony, I can’t figure out which networking meetings are worth it and which ones are not! Help!”
Here are some thoughts:
First of all, networking is important, but not all networking is the same. Far too many people replace real networking with professional socializing. Consultants are comfortable hanging out with consultants. Technical writers are comfortable hanging out with technical writers. Healers like to hang out with other healers. Like all socializing, that can be a very enjoyable activity. But it is NOT networking for business.
In my friend’s case, someone suggested that he attend a talk by someone else in his field. “You guys need to know each other!” someone told him. Maybe, but during the limited time my friend has to pursue new business, he needs to pursue new business, not listen to a two hour lecture from a competitor! Many new entrepreneurs, including yours truly, make this mistake early in their careers.
The best networking is with people who are likely to be close to the people you want to meet, i.e., your target market. Keep in mind that your target market is probably very different from the next person’s target market.
Here are a few examples:
Everyone can quickly see that these different target markets will congregate in different places. In some cases, there are events filled with people in your target market. Those should be opportunities to have a booth, speak, and otherwise prospect for new business. This, however, is prospecting, not networking.
Networking with a purpose is connecting with people with a goal in mind, and that goal is to help them get where they are going, and to ask them for help in getting where you want to go. When you attend a meeting filled with prospective customers, you are marketing yourself (I hope) and developing prospects. When you attend a meeting with few customers, your goal should be to find those who are influential and connected to the customers you want to reach.