Networking opportunities are broad and continually changing, from small events to industry-wide conferences. They are an inexpensive way to promote your business, grow your client base, and meet investors.
The hardest part about networking is getting started but once you begin you’ll start seeing the same people at events and you’ll receive invitations to more events. Before long, your network will be quickly growing and you’ll have a group of people who can help you reach your goals.
Here are some of the most popular networking opportunities available to you.
During conferences you get to meet hundreds of likeminded people who are all looking to expand their networks. This can be quite intimidating when you first start attending – a way to overcome this is to speak at the event. There will be surge of people introducing themselves to you afterwards.
The cost of some of the most popular yearly conferences can be extortionate. However, there are ways to attend without paying full price, such as volunteering at the event, participating in the expo or attending only part of the conference.
Meetings, workshops, and conferences for professional and trade associations often include formal networking events. They also offer ample opportunities to make contacts during the meetings and workshops. By volunteering to help organise a conference you can gain visibility and showcase your work style. Presenting workshops provides another vehicle for exhibiting your knowledge and skills. Or you can attend these workshops and build up your own skills list.
Conferences are a great place to expand your network. Image from ABB Conference.
After-hour events are networking events held after a working day. This is a more relaxed environment than other networking events as there are no speakers or programs and they can be held in a variety of casual settings, such as, in a bar or a chamber of commerce after hours. Due to this relaxed setting you're likely to feel more comfortable speaking to others.
Initiate conversations by discussing non-business topics because you will discover similarities and bond with others. This will consequently assist with building up strong business relationships.
The largest benefit of after-hours events is that you don't have to watch talks or follow a schedule so you conversations are not time-limited or disrupted. This means that you have sufficient time to speak with others on a personal and a business level. Also, busy professionals that cannot attend networking events during the day can actually be there which can unlock opportunities for you that you may have missed just by attending events during the working day.
Many professional associations and organisations provide networking opportunities across all levels of business, from graduates and entry-level employees, to Directors and CEOs. They are a way of keeping up to date with changes in your industry, meeting people who have experienced the same job roles or pain points as you, and you’ll likely get invited to various other networking events.
Professional associations highlight the importance of networking at every level of the company, which opens up plenty of new opportunities for you and your business as you’ll be meeting decision makers within other companies.
Industry and trade associations are very traditional networking opportunities. The conversation will usually be focussed around industry based issues so make sure you form an opinion that you can share and discuss. There will be plenty of opportunities to exchange business cards and hear about potential job opportunities.
Trade shows are exhibitions in which businesses promote themselves. Part of attending a trade show is to network as it's a simple way to meet important people in your industry. If you don't feel comfortable approaching others consider setting up your own stall because people will then come to you.
If you want to specifically network with other job seekers then think about attending a job club meeting. The structure varies between clubs but you generally provide each other with search advice and support. You can make referrals, introductions and notify others of any opportunities. You can generally find job club meetings by looking locally, for example, see if the chamber of commerce is holding a meeting, look at public notice boards etc.
Online social networking sites, such as Quora, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, are networking opportunities for businesses to interact with customers, clients and industry associations. You can reach a greater audience than you can with traditional networking so ensure that you use these platforms to provide your followers with value as this will increase your business' credibility. Calculate how much time you need to dedicate to online networking in a week and create a schedule to be consistent.
Connecting with your industry online will help you keep up to date with events. You can also sign up to online newsletters from trade associations and other businesses to receive regular updates about events and opportunities. Some of the events will not be strictly business so ensure you take business cards with you as you may meet fellow networkers but recognise that this type of networking will not be a priority.
Groups based on diversity, such as gender, race, culture, for example the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, understand the importance of networking and frequently include this at their events. Also sharing the same background with the people you speak to makes it easier to find similarities and build trust - this is part of ethos, the ethical appeal, where listeners are more likely to be convinced by someone they can relate to.
Imagine making more contacts in one hour than some people do in a year. Speed networking is an intensive session of two or three minute meetings. During an interaction, attendees usually share their professional backgrounds and business goals. This is a valuable networking opportunity for people who are seeking exposure to new markets or to expand their pool of vendors quickly, without having to invest hours into doing so.
Speed networking for new business opportunities.
It's all about maximum impact, because after your time is up, you’ll be moving on to the next person, and you want to ensure that you were memorable. You can find speed networking events by searching online and they are becoming increasingly popular recently.
Networking through friends and family can help to establish strong business relationships. You might meet someone who could be useful for your business, or someone whose business you can help, at a casual social event. If you develop a rapport with them and exchange contact details, you can then arrange a more official meeting with them later.
This is a great place to be if you’re just looking to network with likeminded people from a similar industry without the sales or business development pressure. Involvement in these organisations can lead to unique sponsorship opportunities for your business or organisation and contribute to your company’s corporate social responsibility measurement.
Aside from that, it’s a good idea to attend events for non-profits that you feel passionately about as you’ll be able to share this common ground with other people at the event.
Community service groups, such as the local rotary club, require volunteers for their events, for example, summer fairs, talks etc. By volunteering you will interact with many people, including financial donors and other business professionals in your area. People will want to network with you because you're showing everyone that you care about your community and not just yourself - it's making you and your business more visible. But ensure that you do want to genuinely help.
Your business may even be a financial donor which is already a type of networking because you're providing something which may be returned by a future business opportunity. Even if this doesn't directly lead to business it's still beneficial to become recognised for the right reasons - it increases your reputation and credibility locally which can subsequently increase clients and customers.
You can become a reliable participant on online forums or a moderator. This will provide you with exposure and people will learn that you're a valuable person so they'll want to network with you. You'll need to dedicate a lot of time to this because people generally like to be anonymous on online forums so it'll take longer to build up their trust and form relationships with them.
Roundtable events are industry-specific. They consist of participants sat at various roundtables having open discussions, bouncing ideas of each other, sharing experiences - including their successes and failures. There is usually one facilitator per table and participants swap tables every 30 minutes to address topics with other people.
The discussions at the roundtable are useful introductions before you speak to each other during the breaks - it avoids any awkwardness over making first contact. These events generally connect people who have similar interests, goals and experiences which makes it easier for you to choose who to approach during the breaks.
Attending talks can also be a way to network. These talks don't have to be business related, for instance, you may be interested in a certain professor, author or topic. The other people in the audience will share similar interests which can make them valuable contacts.
Try talking to people around you before and after the talk. Also if you want to talk to the speaker you can chat with others whilst waiting to speak with him/her.
Universities, colleges, employers and recruiters often hold career fairs. They're very busy and fast-paced so arrive early and practice your elevator pitch beforehand. If you're running your own stall you can still network with the other businesses.
In lots of towns the local chamber of commerce or college holds events for local businesses, such as, workshops, charity fundraisers, business card exchanges etc. You can meet local employers, business professionals, clients and suppliers. Always carry business cards with you that link to your website, personal profile etc. You may collect a lot of business cards so it's important to follow these opportunities up.
Keep in mind that the quality of the interaction is more important than speaking to as many people as possible. However, lots of chambers of commerce events follow a program consisting of a few sessions of networking between workshops and talks. Due to these time constraints, you need to constantly attend these meetings to form relationships or you can run your own workshop or deliver a presentation because this allows the audience to get to know more about you compared to a quick conversation.
Being part of a religious group means that you share similar beliefs with a large community of people. You can engage in casual networking at any of their events as you're all more likely to share the same opinions, trust each other and want to help one another.
Breakfast meetings are usually arranged by businesses and associations. They allow small groups of people to network which means you have more time to speak with individuals and you can talk in more depth. These meetings are especially beneficial for people whose busy schedules prevent them from attending networking events as they are held before the working day commences.
The environment is more relaxing than other networking events which means you're likely to remain calmer and perform better. Talking to people in the morning, before any work stresses, may also help you stay more focused and alert.
Exercise is not only beneficial for forming social connections - it can also help with business connections. It doesn't matter whether you participate in a team sport or an individual sport, there's always a chance to strike up a conversation with a fellow athlete. Strong rapports can quickly be built by suffering together and comradeship, such as, going on a parkrun.
Universities often hold events for their alumni - there may be general events, such as, a drinks evening or it may be more specific to target certain interests, such as, a museum tour or a sports event. You can network at these events and it's very likely someone else will be doing the same. Events based on interests are especially useful for networking with similar others as it will be easier for you to form connections.
If you're too busy to attend lots of events, focus on developing relationships with just four or five key people who you already know. It’s often easier to strengthen your relationship with someone who you already have a good rapport with. Consider contacts who might face similar challenges to you and work out how you might be able to assist each other.
You’ll be able to find a wide range of events to attend through event meetup sites such as Meetup.com and Eventbrite. Search by location or event type to find something local and of interest. Most of these events are free or have a minimal cost of around $5. It’s good practice to get into the habit of regularly attending breakfasts, seminars, lectures and lunches that are held by various groups to diversify your network.
Ask around - former colleagues, lecturers, supervisors, classmates, friends etc may know of networking events. You can also speak to people that have been working in your area to find out which events are worth your time. Also, ask influential people for advice on the internet about events as lots of them are willing to help.
Try a few different types of networking events to find the ones that work best for you. Remember that business is not always the priority depending on the event - be flexible and adapt to the situation. Each of the events provide certain benefits and they can all lead to you achieving a positive presence in the industry.