Business Networking: What are the options?

As I sit here thinking about what to write I decided to think about all the different kind of networking that I am aware of and contemplate what networking can or cannot do for a business.

Firstly, let’s find a definition of ‘Networking’ from Wikipedia:

Business networking is a marketing method by which business opportunities are created through networks of like-minded business people. There are several prominent business networking organizations that create models of networking activity that, when followed, allow the business person to build new business relationship and generate business opportunities at the same time.

Many business people contend business networking is a more cost-effective method of generating new business than advertising or public relations efforts. This is because business networking is a low-cost activity that involves more personal commitment than company money.

As an example, a business network may agree to meet weekly or monthly with the purpose of exchanging business leads and referrals with fellow members. To complement this activity, members often meet outside this circle, on their own time, and build their own “one-to-one” relationship with the fellow member  read more…

There are various types of networking groups so let’s look at several a little closer.

  • Online Networking & Social Media
  • Breakfast Networking
  • Lunchtime Events
  • Evening Events
  • Speed Networking

Online Networking/Social Media:

Online networking has been going on for many years now through the likes of LinkedIn and 4Networking for example, but recently there has been a plethora of ‘social’ networks including the micro-blogging service Twitter, Facebook and many others now being used on a regular basis for business promotion.  There are plenty of courses and help available to put together a social media strategy and show you how to use it.  I’ve recently started to use Hootsuite which will link all my various social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc together.  This saves time and if I wish I can post across all mediums.  I also use seperate accounts on Twitter (@computerselaine and @convalliscrm – tweets relevent to Convallis Software’s CRM product) and have a personal and business page on Facebook to keep my personal and professional identities separate to some extent. Online networking is a great way of making new contacts (although I am always careful to check out profiles before connecting as I want to be sure that I’m connecting with the right people), but think that you can’t beat face to face networking.  The reason for this is to get to know, and trust and understand that person before referring business.

Breakfast Networking:

These events usually start anywhere between 7am and 8am and normally last for a couple of hours.  These events are ideal if you want to network before going to the office and then getting a whole day’s work in.  Many people (working mums in particular from experience) find this time of day difficult as it tends to clash with the school run.  As a working mum myself I can understand the dilema, but I am lucky as I work with my husband and he is happy to do the school run if there is a breakfast event that I would like to attend.

Lunchtime Events:

From experience, these events tend to take place in a central location, such as a town or city centre hotel to enable attendees to maximise the use of their time out of the office, yet get back to work in time for a productive afternoon.  They can be a sit down meal, for example as members of Exeter Chamber of Commerce  we attend these generally once a month for a meal and a speaker, or there are events where there is a buffet lunch or ‘nibbles’ to enable the attendees to network with as many people as possible.

Evening Events

I have come across various different types of evening networking events.  The most common one that I have come across is a seminar/speaker which is generally preceded by open networking with more open networking after the main talk.  These events are generally accompanied by canapes and wine/non-alcoholic option and are a great way to network without taking time out of your office day as most tend to start from 5pm onwards.

Speed Networking

This is a bit like speed dating but for business. You have between a minute and 3 minutes to describe to the person opposite what you do etc and then swap. One person then moves on to the next and the process starts again until you have spoken to everyone in the opposite group. can be a bit frantic at times – I used to enjoy it, but am not so sure these days, all I seemed to get from it was a bunch of business cards that might not necessarily been of use and a load of spam email.

With such a selection to choose from, I’m sure that if you would like to give networking a go there will be something to suit you.