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 - once you begin, you’ll start seeing the same people at events and you’ll receive invitations to more events from people you meet. Before long, your network will be growing exponentially 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.
Conferences are the networking highlight of many people's calendars. You get to meet hundreds of likeminded people who are all looking to expand their networks. They can be quite intimidating when you first start attending – a great way to overcome this is to speak at the event. There will be surge of people introducing themselves to you after the event.
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.
Conferences are a great place to expand your network. Image from ABB Conference.
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 help each other.
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 great way to keep up to date with changes in your industry, meet 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.
Online social networking sites, such as Quora, Facebook and LinkedIn, are great networking opportunities for businesses to interact with customers, clients and industry associations.
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.
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 great 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 be a great way 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.
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.