Networking not working?

Posted on:10. 05. 2010

By Cliff Findlay

Just how many networking groups and structures are there out there? BNI, NRG, Supper Club, ACE, First Tuesday and about a zillion beginning with the word entrepreneur.

But in all honesty, how many actually create business, consistently, for a large percentage of the people who attend them? And how many are either a pyramid sales platform designed to make others rich or create egocentric gatherings of people?

Of course all of them tell stories that of our members did this or another did that. However, in my opinion, there is a simple underlying issue with the set up of each one.

Let’s look at the three systems outlined.

Small business:
BNI, NRG, First Tuesday, 4N etc, etc, etc (and there are a lot of etcs). Typically they meet first thing in the morning, appear to be really daring and have all disappeared by the end of the day. The usual process tends to go like this:

You meet somewhere (usually to eat or drink something), say hello, stand up and say your 60secs, sit down to ignore everyone else having their say (whilst you devour your breakfast and coffee), wait to be given a slip of paper with a name on it, set up a one to one with another member and then leave.

The issue:
There is typically no qualification process to become a member apart from a £500 membership and a pulse (pulse is negotiable by the way). This means that groups grow where they include a variety of businesses with members who can or can’t network. Quite a few of these groups act as what I like to call black holes, where everything goes in and nothing comes out. Therefore the churn rate of good members is huge. Good members get bored, grow their business irrespective and see that they aren’t getting anything from their time and effort and then leave the group. Sure, the legal guys and accountants can get good money out of it as they generally require each other’s services on a regular basis. However, most other people normally only win business chaotically, if at all.  This often means that groups have growth phases where they are being ‘re-launched’, such as BNI and other companies across London.

Medium sized:
ACE, Supper Club, Vistage etc. Fundamentally educational groups who offer networking events alongside their education platform. Typically expensive to join so they seem selective which they are as many can’t afford to join them. They attract members by saying how much they will learn and grow and will also enjoy networking with peers. The issue is that the group typically stays the same therefore you could get lumbered. There is little structure to encourage and push new business apart from other costly networking events. Therefore, in my opinion these groups are not really networking, they have tagged networking to seem like there is a chance to win new business.

Entrepreneurial and big business:
Roll up, roll up and see the speaker! And IF you meet someone worth talking to, who isn’t after investment for their ‘great idea’ then good on you. For me these meetings or gatherings are the biggest waste of time out of all of them. They promise so much and seem to deliver so little. Okay, I get to hear how someone who has been fortunate and backed a winner was fortunate andbacked a winner. They tell you some great stories of some of the issues they went through but rarely does a moment of pure inspiration come from listening to them. The key for me is that the networking side is totally muddled and unmanaged. At least with the other two systems they say what they are and deliver it to a lesser or further extent.

So how can networking work?
In my mind networking and ‘word of mouth’ marketing is the way forward, and will become the steadfast way of winning new business in what is becoming an ever noisier and more competitive marketplace. It is where we deal with people we like and respect, who can provide the services we desire and at the same time develop a certain trust that only comes from long-term relationships. It is a ‘self-policing’ kind of system, in so much that if someone ‘misbehaves’ the word gets around and, will, always get around.

Therefore, the way forward has to be to create a strategic plan for your networking. Build a group of trusted referrers, mentors, peers and workers who all look after each other. Drive down into the relationships and give. If you are selective enough and create a strong enough group you will give and receive the kind of networks you are after.

You will be seen as a go-to person that others can trust, not simply a supplier or someone who just turns up. Not like the kind who turns up, tells everyone how good they are and the goes away clutching numerous cards that would have more purpose being framed on the wall than in their useless hands.

What business are you after? Who knows them? And what can you offer them? These are the key questions to ask before you embark on a time expensive marketing process. It will sometimes seem that you are doing all the hard work and getting little in return; but you know what? It is stable and it is actually scalable.  You are in control and it will return more and more as your network grows. You will also be seen as someone with a moral compass not just a financial one.

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