Without a doubt I would say yes. However, as somebody who has been actively networking since 1998 you can also waste an awful lot of time. I have been a member of numerous different networking groups and some work better than others. That said, I am a firm believer that you get out what you put in so within reason you have to “do your time”.
I know contacts who have built their entire client base from referral based networking and I know others who have gone bump because they spent too much time meeting and greeting but not generating any business.
Here I’ll explain a little bit about some of the different types of networking groups you could consider getting involved with. Costs, rules and times of day vary, there are no hard and fast rules but they tend to be either before work, lunch time or early evening and last for a few hours. Breakfast meetings became very popular in the late ’90s with the rationale of starting at 7am and being back to your desk by 9am so they don’t interfere with your work day.
Local business groups – these may be run independently or through your Chamber of Commerce (where you have to pay to attend some events). Members tend to be diverse with no cap on how many from a particular sector are involved. There are organisations who run “open room format” business networking events where there is no structure to your time. You pay your entrance fee (around £10) and then simply network with between 60 and 100 other businesses for 2 hours
Closed category groups – these groups have one member represented from each industry sector and your competitors are locked out. Members generally pay an annual fee to be part of the network in addition to monthly fees to cover your own group’s room hire and catering costs. You would expect to meet your group weekly or fortnightly depending on which model you are following and the objective is to get the other 30 or so members to refer business to you.
Interest based groups – there are lots of collaborative networks about where a group of people either share a common interest or have a platform where they can collaborate on projects (popular in creative and digital sectors). Interest based groups tend to run on a voluntary basis unless they are big or specialised enough to have a sponsor.
Issue based groups – usually short term and formed where a particular issue is causing problems or could potentially cause problems for members. The focus on the group will be the task in hand and once resolved the groups tend to dissolve. They may still be good for networking if the right type of people are involved.
Online groups – where do I start! There are so many groups out there that you can join both free and paid. LinkedIN groups have grown tremendously over the last few years and there are lots of specialised industry groups that you can request membership of. Also there are places that offer business training, virtual networking etc. I’ll post more on this another time but for not I just wanted to add online groups to this list.
Have a look to see what’s available for you and go along to and work out if the event fits in with your strategy. You can attend most groups a few times before you commit to signing up for a longer period. Others have no membership fees or tie-ins, you just go when you want to.
If you need help putting your own networking strategy in place, please get in touch.