Is networking worth it?

It’s ungodly-o’clock and you’re on the first train to London – the 5:43am one. The networking meeting is 6:45-8:30am, finishing ‘just in time for the start of the business day.’ No. My business day starts minimum 9am, if not 10am after the kids are at school and Sunny pup has stretched his legs.

You’re drinking the first bad coffee of three, trying pay attention to what the eager, bright-eyed (crazed?) fellow networker next to you is rabbiting on about and mumbling clever comments back to him. Everyone grabs a greasy buffet breakfast and takes their seats and the set format begins of introductions, then a presentation from one of the members unashamedly selling their wares (apologising* for ‘being a bit American about this’ while you, as an American, try not to be offended). Finally come the testimonials and thanks for the business passed around the group. All done and it is only 8:30. Maybe not so bad after all.

Over the next couple of weeks you follow up the two or three new leads from the meeting, but everyone you meet seems more interested in selling their own services than taking you up on yours. You have used up all your business cards almost like weapons, thrusting them at unsuspecting people who then retaliated with their own ammunition. The stack is on your desk waiting for inputting into your contacts list and mutual newsletter spamming – followed by lightning quick unsubscribing once the newsletters go out.

For your own sake, I hope you don’t recognise this scenario. If you do, you’ll know exactly what I mean. This kind of desperate networking looking for business is soul-destroying and it certainly doesn’t work for me.

When I moved from London to the ‘burbs at the very edge of the Tube map, I joined The Athena Network, to get to know the local community and to find new business. After three years of membership, during which time I closed my company, Madomat, and joined Grain, I decided that the Athena’s main audience of sole traders and small businesses did not match up with our target audience of larger companies who needed our branding and design offering.

After all those monthly Athena meetings plus many many others at other networks I dipped in and out of, I can think of 2 clients gained through networking. That may seem like a dire outcome. However, what I gained from networking is invaluable.

You can see in the mindmap above some of the incredible ways networking has contributed to my life and work. As mentioned in another post, the year of coaching I received from Rachel Clark at EMyth completely changed the way I look at my business. I first heard about the EMyth book through the Athena co-founder Jacqueline Rogers.

One month I volunteered to give a talk about online networks like LinkedIn – this was before LinkedIn completely dominated that market. While I was doing that research, I came across some local people who looked interesting, which is when I met Drew Durning, who now works for Grain managing online marketing and online optimisation like SEO and PPC for us and our clients. We get about 80-90% of our new business (initial enquiries plus repeat business) through SEO and PPC. So getting 2 clients from networking is not the actual figure!

We also found our PR and social media expert Kent Le through our relationship with the University of West London which also traces back to that online networking talk through Drew, Simon Wade, Frank Wingate and West London Business.

Through these longer lines of networking we have gained strategic advisors for Grain which have also had a fundamental impact on how we position and market ourselves.

Speaking at networking meetings and attending a public speaking workshop held by Athena member Sally Hindmarch at Partners With You helped me become more relaxed and confident while speaking, essential in winning new business, and also in delivering guest lectures like the one at the Claude Littner Business School of the University of West London.

As I write this I can think of even more links not in the mindmap, like finding our developer Harry Harris.

I haven’t been to any networking meetings for quite a while now. These days, my first criterion is that I need to enjoy the meeting itself. I’d rather find an interesting talk or event that’s not specifically for networking, ideally with a chance to chat with people at some point. The business card duels are less likely to happen that way, and everyone isn’t competing to sell themselves. My frame of mind is also going to be more positive and I will have sipped a tastier coffee by then. A good way to find events is by searching Eventbrite for topics that spark your interest. Have fun and keep an open mind!

If you have more tips about networking, or not networking, please share them below.

*I have adopted British spelling so I don’t stick out here in the UK when you can’t hear my accent.

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