Stop Chasing After Bright Shiny Objects – The Truth About Networking (In Northamptonshire)

The Truth About Networking In NorthantsIt seems in the world of networking that as soon as something new comes along then people are drawn towards it – as if the grass in going to be greener on the other side!

  • Am I going to meet new and bigger businesses?
  • Is it cheaper that what I am doing now?
  • Can I get my lock-out space before anyone else?
  • This is bound to be new and different!
  • Will I get more exposure and more business?

If we take a look at Northants one could argue that the networking space is saturated already: 4Networking; BNI; Breakfast At Beckworths; Brunch At Brampton; Business Biscotti; Business Club; Busy Women Networking; Chamber of Commerce; Early Bird Networking; Enigma; FSB; Kettering Business Network; Link4Growth; NN coNNect; Nuovo Networking; Thursday Breakfast Club; Women In Business. (Apologies to any local networking groups if I have missed you out! Please add your group details in the comments below).

But bear in mind that across all these groups, there are probably only 100s of businesses networking out of the 39,638 firms* in Northants (source: Business Times), it is still only a small fraction within the county. (*In 2015 there were 6,347 new companies formed!). I wonder where they all are?

But networking groups tend to come and go as they are pretty much offering the same thing as each other without too much to differentiate themselves.

So let’s look at the different types of networking groups that exist:

  • Referral – these groups are typically “lock-out” – meaning only 1 business per sector can be represented at each meeting and there is usually a “have to attend” rule; which means you are obligated to go along to each meeting – be it weekly fortnightly or monthly. These meetings are usually quite structured in terms of the agenda and content. For example: BNI, Enigma, Early Bird Network, WIBN.
  • Membership – this doesn’t necessarily mean lock-out but does tend to mean more of a commitment to get the most out of your investment. Actually this should work for you in terms of networking (see “how networking works” below). Some fees include the cost of a meeting; others involve an annual fee with the meeting cost on top. For example: NN coNNect, 4Networking, Business Club.
  • Non-membership – there are a number of meetings across the county and they are just pay as you go attend when you want type affairs. For example: Nuovo Networking, Link4Growth, Kettering Business Network.

Let’s consider how networking works

Firstly, it is not about selling to the room – far from it. If you are in sales mode when you go to a networking meeting, it is unlikely you are going to be successful; because no-one has come to buy anything. What it is about is nurturing and developing relationships with other people in order to become credible with them so that they get to know like and trust you; at which point there is the opportunity that they will do business with you or they have connections for which they would be willing to refer you into. Think about how you can raise your profile, become the expert in your field and provide help support and knowledge to the community around you? (By the way this article is primarily about face-to-face networking but equally applies to your social media presence).

Now let’s explore why you should consider networking as part of your route to market

Word of mouth is by far the best form of referrals for your business. So compared to “passive” marketing activity where you are waiting for the phone to ring e.g. website, leaflets, advertising, directory listings, etc., being out and about meeting people getting to know them and vice versa is going to serve you well. On the whole it also a lot more cost effective that other mediums that you may be considering or using. Either way, whatever your marketing activity you should be measuring your return on investment – pounds invested versus pounds back. (BNI particularly pride themselves on business generated – this is measured and published for each group).

And how about the costs? Here is an overview of what the typical costs will be for the different networking groups (there may be special introductory offers not included here):
(NB Every effort has been made to ensure that these costs are correct as of March 2016)

The Truth About Networking In NorthantsNotes: 1. Some meetings are for members only and a premium may apply for non-member; membership from £270+vat. 2. You can attend FSB meetings if you are a non-member but a premium applies; membership from £160+vat.

*Yearly costs are based on annual fee and/or monthly fee plus the frequency of meetings be they weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Assumes 2 meetings per month if fortnightly. E.g. for 4Networking: £365 + (24 x £13) = £677+vat.

(Please see below for contact details for each of these groups)

Of course with any investment you need to look at the return so, even if you are prepared to invest £1000 per year, if you received 5-10x that back in revenue, then you wouldn’t mind so much would you? You need to look at the value of your networking activity not just the cost and, as you will see below, the benefits for you might not just be the level of business you receive.

What are some of the benefits of networking?

  • Business – obviously the main intent for most people who network is the opportunity to generate more business directly through people that you meet or through the extended network that you get access to via referrals.
  • Education – through guest speakers training and sometimes videos there is also the opportunity at some networking groups to continue your learning/development.
  • Social – running your own business can be quite a lonely place to be therefore being able to get out and mix with other like-minded individuals can be a big benefit of networking.
  • Suppliers – this aspect is often overlooked, but networking is a great place to identify suppliers to your business as you can get to meet various providers and it gives you peace of mind and confidence when sourcing a product or service when you have had the chance to meet face to face.
  • Influence – raises your profile within your business community and helps increase your position as the expert in your field.
  • Awareness – keeps you up to date with what is happening in your local business community: people, events, new organisations, public services, politics, news, etc.

For most it will be a combination of these things.

The Referral Institute suggests that you should probably only have 3 preferred networking groups that you attend; ideally one should be membership, another ad hoc, and maybe vary the time of day that you attend so that you stand a better chance of meeting a variety of different people.

But it may also be worth noting Dunbar’s number – paraphrasing; we can maintain effective and meaningful relationships with around 150 people and if this is so what is the point of 100s or 1000s of contacts connections etc?

This may apply to your online activity but also consider that networking is not just about meeting as many people as you can, collecting their business card and adding them to your database; but seeking out valuable contacts for referrals provision of goods/services and maybe new friends?

So where do you network and where does your loyalty lie?

Which groups do you choose to support and what are the benefits that you get out of them?

Are you in the right networking group right now or is it time for a refreshing change?