Local Networking groups, what are they good for?
Absolutely nothing to some - and plenty to others
If you’re a small business owner or ‘solopreneur’ (like me) this Insight on Networking is for you.
Here I’ll challenge the idea that (local) Networking is always useful for small business owners and briefly explore alternatives that will work better for some.
The absolute basic guidance
Any good guide on Networking will tell you to think carefully about which types of networking meeting you attend.
Obviously, you’ll want to go where your audience ‘hangs out’ … and that rule applies whether you’re Networking in person or reaching out to a particular group of people via Social Media or traditional (printed) media channels.
The digital age has changed our world in many ways but most would agree that to build serious trust with another person, you need to meet (at least once) face to face. Or, as I once heard, from a wonderful guy who managed the training for the personal finance arm of a National Accountancy firm…
‘If you’re going to see eye to eye, you’ll need to get belly to belly’
The challenge, for some people like me with my NEW educational writing offering, is that you might not find many (if any) of the right people at local networking meetings. Some business ‘types’ simply don’t hang out at these events.
It’s often said that local Networking is unlikely to help you sell high volumes of low margin, vanilla products (like basic stationery items) whilst it can help you sell higher-value, higher-margin professional services.
But, if you need to connect with people who will spend £ tens of thousands on your services (rather than a few hundred) you probably need to fish in different waters.
Perhaps you need to join a sport (or other leisure or special interest club – Golf is not mandatory!) and connect to your ideal contacts that way.
Perhaps you need to head out to the big industry events that your big spending target audience attends – and even if you can’t connect directly to the people you want – you can connect with the folk they work with – and ‘get in’ to see your decision-makers from there.
And these ‘next level’ connections are also unlikely to attend local networking groups, unless they’re planning an escape from the big corporate world – in which case their contact with the people you want to see – might be about to go past their sell-by date 🙂
Wherever you go, if yours is an intellectual service business – you probably need to publish your valuable ideas – in a book and on a blog – as a minimum.
You can have no better calling card than your own, good quality book.
OK – but Networking is about connection right?
You’ve probably heard the saying that the value of Networking is not just about who you meet in person, but about all the people that person could introduce you to.
And that’s true. Indeed, if you follow the maths – everyone on the planet is connected by a maximum of 6 degrees of separation… or is it now just 4? – see below.
Either way (in theory) it wouldn’t take many introductions to get you an audience with Donald Trump – if that’s what you really want 😉
However, regular local networking meetings can take up a lot of your time. So, you need to get an idea (quite quickly) about the chances of your time investment paying off and, TBH, local Networking has not (yet) helped me personally. That said, I’ve met a lot of lovely people – and had a lot of fun playing Bongos (another story) whilst ‘having a go’ 😉
For me, connecting and swapping ideas with ‘influencers’ on Twitter – and attending focused industry events – is what’s helping me develop my business. Although in fairness, I’ve changed tack recently because my earlier ‘offering’ was too ‘out there’ for most people (more on that further down) – So, I’ve not yet ‘retested’ my new offering with local groups.
What is local Networking good for?
Well, I think local Networking is great for exploring ‘Unknown Knowns’
Yes, you probably recognise this term which I’ve borrowed from Donald Rumsfeld, see below.
It’s a great way to think about your business propositions.
What do I mean?
Well, most small business owners (and ‘solopreneurs’) like you and me, need certain, well-defined services to grow their business right?
It might be a photographer, a web site developer, an accountant, a PA or even a writer for their blogs or videos because they don’t have the time (or skill) to write those things.
Sorry, couldn’t resist!
Now, you’ve got a rough idea of what those services provide and, if you’ve been in business for any time, you’ll have used some, if not all of them already. So, apart from an opportunity to sell your own services, Networking will get you thinking about trying out new suppliers of known services – or make use of a known service for the first time
Of course, you might not (yet) have learned how to filter out the average or poor quality providers from the great ones. So, whilst the service type (plumber, accountant, photographer etc) might be known to you – their quality will be largely unknown 😉
And this is what troubles me about non-competing networks where, for example, if you join and find someone with a need for plumbing work, you’re expected to introduce that person to the plumber in your group – regardless of how good they are… or what they charge.
Quality Networks are different to this
I made some very expensive mistakes after I escaped from the corporate world to set out on my author / solopreneur journey, a few years back.
Indeed, I naively thought that most of the rogues in the service sector lived in my old sector – of Financial Services.
How wrong I was!
Yes, the FS industry still has its problems but there are also some great financial planners out there, offering high-value advice at a very fair price. So, like other services, you just need to ‘know’ how to find the best – and if that’s something you need help with – many do – give me a shout. It might save you thousands in fees and other nasties.
But I was truly shocked to find so many small business owners offering introductions to others (in Web site design and development, Social Media, SEO, PR and more) who supplied average and, in some cases, really poor services at high costs.
So, those were expensive lessons to learn.
Indeed, this targetting of introductions is so embedded in the rules of one Networking group that on one occasion, whilst trying to talk to a Web designer about work I’d approached him to do for me, he genuinely struggled to talk about my design requirements.
He was simply too distracted by his (perceived) need to introduce me as a potential customer to his other group members – and was unable to focus on solving my problems with his expertise – which he had!
Frankly, it was a difficult meeting and I had to tell him, very directly, to stop trying to make introductions – and just focus on helping me with my immediate, website design, concerns!
Thankfully, he took my, less than subtle, hint. We sorted out the designs and, the website is all the better for it… or so I’m told 😉
An ideal group would offer known knowns
Nowadays, I’m really only interested in finding solid (proven best or, at least, very good) services for myself… and promoting those ‘diamond’ suppliers to others.
Of course, this assumes that these diamonds have the capacity to take on more work. Many are so good that they get all the work they need from referrals – in which case I keep quiet about them. After all, I don’t want to give them unwanted work or worse, risk their capacity to provide quality services to me!
The IRATE Wealth Builders learning and Networking group
Indeed, at one point, I thought about starting my own ‘Wealth builders’ National networking group on exactly that basis. To build a group where the speakers/presenters at meetings were drawn from a national pool and acknowledged (RATED) to be amongst the best in their class.
Most thought leaders have one or more ‘scalable’ products (books, courses, membership programs) which pose no capacity constraints. And are very open to the idea of doing talks for a modest or no fee, for the extra business that might bring.
I might still do that if I can find enough like-minded people to help – but it’d be quite a project to launch and there’s already a lot of conference competition out there – and you need to put large numbers of ‘bottoms on seats’ to make this model fly. So that ambition might have to wait a bit… unless there are others who’d like to pool resources on this 🙂
BTW, ‘I’ll be back’ is one local meeting I’ve found (which runs in both London and Bristol) and reaches the educational quality ideal. They tend to focus their talks on the future of digital marketing and advertising but the ideas shared are of interest to a very wide audience. So, if that’s of interest search ‘I’ll be back’ on Eventbrite for their next event.
They’re fun events – and you might even bump into me!
So, that just leaves the unknown unknowns (The Classic Rumsfeld quote)
The flip side of having a ‘known’ type of service – is having an ‘unknown’ one.
And I know, from personal experience and watching others wrestle with this, that local Network groups are not the best place to crack open a market for a NEW type of service – that people don’t immediately recognise.
If your ‘offer’ is a service but is really different and ‘out there’… it might be that no amount of local Networking will get you to where you want to be. So, in this case:
think about selling your services into large, established (or fast growing) and trusted brands.
You could provide the bigger firm with a version of your service (or materials) that they can then promote under their own brand.
Of course for this to work, your business proposition must be solid and the terms very well defined*
… but nail the details and serious brands will want to assess what you have to offer – and are more likely buy into it in some way.
*Challenges we’ll come back to another time.
In all honesty, this is where I landed more by luck than design (although active Tweeting probably helped) after ‘banging my head’ against a wall of local networking meetings for too long.
And that’s why I wanted to share this here…
… for anyone else who has a quality but ‘unknown-unknown’ idea – and could use some support it making themselves heard amongst the people with the big budgets.
I’m now focused on the development of a new ‘member’s only’ area of this site…
… and the sale of bespoke versions of my financial educational lessons to larger Financial Services businesses (Adviser and Product Provider firms) as they are the ones who can see the immense value of these materials to their customers – and thus to their own brands.
As I said above, the real decision-makers at these companies don’t tend to hang out in (most) local networking meetings.
So, if you have an “unknown unknown” product or service, you probably need a different way to find the right people.
If you offer a ‘known’ service type – in block sizes and prices that could suit members of your local Networking group, or their regular contacts, then stick with your local Networking or start doing it if you’re not already – and you need extra business.
Otherwise, have a good think about how you can get in front of the right decision makers with the right quality of ‘pitch’ for your services.
I’d love to know what you think about Networking and what I’ve said here.
Please feel free to comment and challenge my thinking in the comments section below.
Thanks for dropping in,
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