Home Articles Real lessons on real business networking from real life

Real lessons on real business networking from real life


How many times have you been to a business networking event and seen “those people.” You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones whose opening gambit is to thrust their business card into your hand and immediate start talking about themselves.

If you are a member of a networking group, as I am, then you would have witnessed these people coming and going, like seagulls swooping in to fight over the crumbs left on an al fresco dining table! Usually they only turn up once or twice before concluding that this group is full of ‘losers’ who don’t want to do business because ‘None of them called me!’

Or there’s the scenario where they did join up and ‘It still didn’t work’. When you review their involvement, you realise that they have only attended intermittently, they have often treated the group as their own personal soap box and they have made little or no impact on their fellow members.

It is often not a surprise that when it comes time for them to renew their membership, they conclude that there has been no real return on investment (ROI), so it would make no sense to continue to invest in something that has generated very few leads and a negative cash flow.

Here’s a question I have for you to ponder…

When you attend an event, who’s responsible for making sure you get something out of it?

No, it’s not. An event or networking group organiser puts a lot of work in behind the scenes to provide you, the attendee with the best possible opportunity to benefit from your presence there. They have gone out and met people, held random conversations with strangers, made phone calls, sent emails and generally approached and possibly pestered or chased people to get them to turn up in the first place.

They’ve found the venue, negotiated deals, organised refreshments, bought equipment and got there early to ensure that everything is as perfect as is humanly possible for you when you arrive. They even send you a reminder that the event is on. Yet still some people either don’t bother to show up or breeze in whenever it suits them. It’s ironic that those who place no value on turning up themselves are often heard complaining that ‘not enough people turn up to these things!’

Are other attendees there for your amusement?

No, it is not. If that newsflash disappoints you, then so be it. The other attendees are not there merely for your amusement or to line your pockets with unwarranted deposits of gold. They are every day, regular people, all of whom have their own reasons for attending, which may or may not be the same as your reasons.

 I’ve heard people cite the following motives for taking action and turning up:

They want to learn

If you can take away one piece of advice or one golden nugget that you can use in your own business then you have probably already got your money’s worth.

They want to socialize

Many attendees are one-person bands. They may work from home alone and this is their chance to meet other people and regain the sociable aspect that is only available to people in larger organisations.

They want to keep current with market trends

Listening to other people talk about their business challenges and opportunities can give you ideas and insight into what people think about whatever is current and into what people want. That, my friends is market research.

They want opportunities

Most people are terrified of public speaking, so the chance to give your ‘elevator pitch’ (the short business introduction you’d give if you met someone in an elevator, who asked what you do for a living), is an invaluable chance to practice among friends or small, intimate groups. Many networking functions allow you the chance to showcase your business with a longer talk or a power point presentation.

They want to meet experts

As a business coach myself, I’m constantly looking for ways of enhancing the service to my clients by developing a network of experts I can call upon for specialist advice. For example, though I give general advice about legal issues, I would not presume to offer specific advice, but would instead connect my client with a lawyer, whose services I am happy to recommend.

They don’t know how to solve their own problems

Business ownership can be a lonely place, even in a large company, because the buck stops with you and your staff expect you to show leadership. Being in a networking group can be akin to having your own board of directors, willing to brainstorm your problems and offer solutions that may not have occurred to you. Like a business coach, they have the advantage of ‘not being you’, so their suggestions are unencumbered by emotional attachment.

They want new business

Most of us would like this, because it would be a measurable way of justifying the cost of attendance. Unlike the ‘scavengers’ I mentioned in my opening paragraph however, I hope that my subsequent observations have helped demonstrate that your return on investment can in fact take many forms. If, like me, your networking connections have led you to better and cheaper insurance policies, a renegotiated home mortgage, free initial legal advice, or sharper photographs for your website, then you will see that it’s not all about you, but it most certainly can still benefit you.

It’s all about what’s driving each of us…

If you are not yet convinced, you have only to look at the impact of the transparency created by social media. You cannot hide behind shoddy service, poor products or unethical practices in today’s consumer-driven world. You will be exposed, and rightly so.

That brings me nicely to the subject of ethics and how a lady named Denise gave me the flash of inspiration for this article. I have made a point of following up with the people I have met through networking groups and seminars, but not with the agenda of selling them something. Rather, with the intention of going beyond the sometimes nervy elevator pitch and finding out what else this person does, but for me more importantly, to find out who this person is and what they believe in.

Admittedly, I am a person who is fascinated by people and by what drives them. There is a spiritual side to my business philosophies that measures people more by who they really are than by how much money they make or how much I can make out of them.

Not everyone can afford the luxury of altruism and I too am in business to make a profit, but today’s world is becoming increasingly dependent on quality alliances, support networks and even joint ventures, We can’t do it all alone and we no longer have to adhere to that archaic notion.

Every time I follow up and have a coffee meeting with a new connection, I learn something I did not know about that person. It’s my belief that everyone can teach you something if you just take the trouble to notice. Every person I meet is fighting their own battles in business and in life and each of them has a gift for you if you will only pause to accept it.

It might be the gift of a business lead or referral, or it could be a myriad of alternatives – a piece of advice; a recommended article or book; an introduction; a different way of approaching a problem; even perhaps a new friendship.

Business is a playing field full of land mines and golden nuggets alike. What Denise reminded me of with her parting comment at our recent post-networking coffee catch up was that by taking time to talk one-on-one, we had both been able to “get to the essence of a person”.

Business is built on relationships, but I urge you to look firstly for what help you can give. Try it and you’ll be amazed at the results on your bottom line – in business as in life.

Tony Inman is the author of ‘If Life’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Well’. He helps business owners to be less stressed, more effective, more fulfilled, and happier.