Networking is a vital part of most small businesses’ marketing activities. It is their chance to see their products and services directly and make contacts who may have referrals for them. They may also have referrals for these contacts, or find the supplier they are looking for.
But what are the choices and which group is right for you? Groups vary from the completely relaxed to the very structured and monitored. Some are free to attend and others can have quite high membership fees – on top of the monthly meeting fee – so have a budget in mind.
After budget you need to look at which ones you can realistically attend. Breakfast meetings may be out due to school run commitments, so a morning meeting may be better. Will lunchtime meetings cause too much disruption to your working day? There are some evening meetings, however do these disrupt family time?
Also what is the time commitment required? Some meetings are weekly and you need to send a sub if you can’t make it. Others may be fortnightly or monthly, so easier to fit in with your other commitments.
Some groups also have a ‘lock out’ whereby only one company from each profession is allowed to attend, so this may automatically exclude you from some groups.
Once you have identified the ones you would like to try then contact the organisers. You can normally attend two to three meetings before having to commit to membership (if applicable).
When you are there you can decide if you like the structure of the meeting and how the group is run. Also consider if the audience is likely to represent your target market or have links to it.
When attending your first meeting go prepared – take plenty of business cards, and practise your one minute sales pitch. This needs to cover who you are, the name of your business and what you do. For a full one minute pitch also remember to say what type of clients you are looking for.
Once you have chosen which group(s) to join remember to monitor how much business you get from them. That way when renewal time comes you will easily identify which groups are working and which are not.
And remember when you get to your first meeting, try to relax and be yourself. Good luck!