Large, traditional business networking events are a time-honored institution. They have been a staple of aspiring and successful professionals for so long that most networking advice focuses not on whether you should attend, but on how to make the most of these events when you do attend. In theory, they’re one of the best ways to grow your business.
Here’s the problem: you’re probably not getting the consistent results you’re looking for. Regardless of how you define networking, your success will be directly tied to your ability to interact with people looking to achieve many of the same things you are.
The most basic problem with traditional networking events is that they are mixing bowls for professionals who are there for different reasons. Everyone there is focused on his or her own personal agenda, whether it’s signing a new client, creating awareness for their business, or connecting with someone in the hopes of developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Everyone is playing a different game, which is why there are usually no clear winners.
Too many professionals are quick to attend yet another networking event, when in reality, they should be spending that time focusing more on their existing relationships.
My definition of “networking” is any activity that increases the value of your network or the value you contribute to it. The best way to do this is to avoid traditional networking events almost entirely. There are more efficient and effective ways to spend your time. Here are three of my favorite strategies:
Hosting Your Own Events
Hosting your own get-togethers gives you almost complete control over the attendees, the setting, and the outcome. It’s a great way to add value for existing clients and connections, and can also be an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with prospective clients.
Most professionals struggle to find the right balance when allocating their time between client services and business development. But when done properly, you can accomplish both by hosting a great client appreciation event.
The primary goal when planning an event should be to choose an activity your existing clients will enjoy. If you and your best clients share similar passions, start there. Do any of them play poker, or enjoy attending musicals or sporting events? My favorite events to host are wine tastings.
When inviting your clients or strategic partners, indicate that the invitation is for them and a guest (this is key). Ask them to bring someone who enjoys the activity your event is centered around. And remember that this event is not about making a sales pitch. It’s about building upon existing and potentially new connections. Even though I never pitch my firm at these events, it has become commonplace for at least 50% of my clients’ guests to reach out to learn more about my firm. However, if this doesn’t happen (though I bet it will), your event should still be considered a success.
Even if you don’t end up with a single new client, your existing clients will have had a nice night out, will have met some interesting new people, and will have shared the experience with the person they invited — all thanks to you.
Double dating, in the professional networking sense, is like one of the above events, but on a smaller scale. The next time you have four tickets to an event, invite a current client, connection or strategic partner. Ask them to bring someone they think you should meet and you do the same.
Think of all the ways this could be a success. Worst-case scenario, you will deepen your existing relationships. Best-case scenario, you and your client or strategic partner will have an opportunity to connect with an ideal prospective client whom you likely wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Reconnecting with Dormant Ties
This strategy is designed for you to follow up with professionals in your network that you haven’t connected with recently. People who fall into this category are: former classmates, former co-workers, or any contacts from a previous career (to name a few).
As author and Wharton professor Adam Grant has stated, these dormant ties can be more valuable than your current relationships. You and your current contacts likely run in the same circles and because of this, you probably know a good portion of the same people. However, your dormant ties will likely have unique connections and knowledge compared to your current network. Unlike complete strangers, dormant ties are easier to connect with in a meaningful way given your shared background.
An easy way to put this into action is by leveraging your CRM data or LinkedIn. Sort by your oldest connections or the date of your last email exchange. Due diligence is required here to make sure the people you reconnect with are currently in a situation that is relevant to yours.
Start by sending a quick email asking them how they are and mention something specific you once had in common. For those who respond favorably, invite them to have a quick 15-minute phone call to catch up.
Using these strategies will allow you to deepen existing relationships while meeting new connections. Implementing any or all of them will be significantly more productive — and more fun — than subjecting yourself to another inefficient and ineffective networking event.
Source: Harvard Business Review September 2016