Here are some of the things I hear a lot from micro, small and new business owners when they talk about their networking experiences:
‘I am just not getting a reasonable return on my investment, both time and financial.’
‘I have no control or knowledge about who will be there, so I cannot plan who I would like to connect with.’
‘The results from networking, if any are very unpredictable.’
‘My competitors dominate that space.’
‘I find the whole experience extremely stressful and challenging.’
‘I don’t seem to meet any new people.’
What is networking fatigue? Many new and small business owners throw themselves into their networking early on in their business, and let’s face it, there is a lot of choice, so much so, it can become extremely confusing, and before you know it you find yourself investing a lot of time and money networking daily, for some, more than once a day. The result for many is ‘networking fatigue’. They end up disillusioned, exhausted, and have not actually managed to grow their own businesses at all, but perhaps have contributed to the growth of many other businesses!
Now I hasten to add at this point that I am not anti–networking, in fact I often advise micro start up business owners to spend three months throwing themselves into as much networking as their pockets and time will allow, simply because it is often the quickest way to find the best type of networking for you and your business, and start to develop your networking skills.
So, what’s going on, why are so many experiencing ‘networking fatigue’? Well to my mind there are three main reasons:
- No networking strategy, including knowing who their ideal customers are
- The ability to interact effectively with others face to face is poor
- No follow up plan
Even if you are embarking on three months of network testing and experimentation, you should at least have these three things outlined, they can always be amended later.
Let’s take a look at some of the things for you to consider when deciding:
- If networking is a viable business activity for you, or if you should look at other means of lead generation.
- What your outline strategy should be.
What is networking? The definition of networking is ‘interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.’ In essence networking is about building new relationships and deepening existing ones. Networking also happens anytime, and anywhere these days, you don’t even need to leave the house! Any activity you do that increases the value of your network, and it’s a two-way street isn’t it, so it is as much about what you contribute as well as what you receive.
‘The currency of networking is not greed it is generosity.’ Keith Ferrazzi
I think sometimes the presumption is that networking is all about finding potential new customers or clients, when in fact especially for the small business owner or self-employed it is so much more than that. It is about learning about other people and discovering the links you have with them.
Running your own business can be a very isolating experience, you are constantly swapping your business hats, you don’t have enough hours, it is all too easy to get sucked into and bogged down by the daily tasks of your business. Freeing up time for things like your own personal development and strategic planning and thinking is a real challenge. Yes, your network is a really valuable source for meeting potential new customers and marketing your business. It is also an invaluable source for things like:
- Getting new ideas
- Other experts
- Personal development
So as part of your strategy you need to make some decisions. As well as a lead generation source, what other areas of value does your networking tribe provide for you? It also may well be that different groups provide different things.
You also need to evaluate your own skills when it comes to your ability to interact effectively with other professionals. How confident and comfortable are you with the following for example:
- Walking into a room full of strangers and starting up a conversation with somebody
- Having engaging conversations with strangers
- Constructing and delivering an engaging elevator pitch
- Asking for a meet up
- General follow up
- Staying in contact
Get some honest and constructive feedback. Everybody is capable of doing all of the above well, if you have gaps in your skills these are usually easy to resolve. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do that, then knowing what your good at can help you decide how you will network in the future. There are always choices, you can focus your efforts online as an example.
Generally speaking, we have four different types of networks:
- Social – this is your own personal network which you have developed overtime through social rather than business activity. So, your family, friends, old work colleagues, connections you know through your hobbies
- Professional contacts – those you have met through your working life and your business
- Professional networks – trade associations, professional institutions, professional networking groups
- Social Media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to name a few
Remember networking is about building and maintaining relationships with other people, and can happen pretty much anywhere anytime. It doesn’t necessarily mean getting involved in a professional networking group. A contact made through a social event may well prove to be instrumental in helping you progress your business. Family and friends want us to succeed. I personally have family and friends who all have a wide variety of skills, expertise and views, they are an invaluable resource to me, and I frequently use them as my unofficial mentors and coaches. Family especially tend to be really straight with you as well, they will tell you how they see it with love, and you just need to receive with love even if you don’t agree.
Social media provide us with the means to stay connected and develop relationships on line. It is a platform for us to add value to our connections through the content we share. But how good are we really at doing this? I don’t think we see enough of people engaging in genuine networking interaction through social media. In spite of all the free training available to help us do this well, there is still too much of the sell sell sell content being pumped out.
If joining or attending a professional networking group, is something you want to consider, there is an abundance available to us these days, it is becoming a thriving business sector in its own right, and getting involved is quite an investment both in money and time. So how do you decide which is the right group for you? Or if this fits into your overall networking strategy? Ask yourself these four simple questions:
- Who you want to know about you?
- Who has walked the path you are on?
- What do you want your network to look like?
- What type of support would help you?
Do some research to find out where these people are likely to spend their time, and what the different groups have to offer, then it is a question of getting out there and trying out the various groups and trade associations. Ultimately you will hone in on two or three groups which will be able to offer you the sort of networking support you and your business need. Incidentally don’t be concerned if you find over time you feel you have outgrown a networking group, it happens. Both you, your business and the group evolve over time, either you will outgrow each other, and will simple start to move in different directions. Re-evaluate and move on.
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