Business Networking the Good Old-fashioned Way
“What on earth has happened to business networking groups?” “When did the deal come to mean more than the person?” These were the questions I found myself asking colleagues early in 2014.
Having been a part of the Hills Business Community for 13 years, and having played a significant role in building one of the largest networking groups in the Hills, I had become disillusioned and discouraged by some of the trends I was seeing across the local business community.
The small business world appeared to be becoming so busy that people guest attendees weren’t even taking time to stop and have a decent conversation. Attendees at events were hungrier than ever for customers and this was creating an air of desperation at networking functions. The event calendar was so busy with groups trying to grab the small business marketing dollar, that you could be out every night of the week schmoozing with serial networking junkies. And the most significant indicator to me that all was not well, was watching attendees clamour around the organisers of these events as if they were demi gods.
I don’t know how I ended up there, but I decided it was time to Stop. I cancelled memberships, stopped accepting invites and slowly reclaimed my evenings and my life.
Slowly, but surely, when I unwound myself from the networking rat race, I began to remember what mattered most in life and in business. And it was not the number of events I had attended last month, or how many people I was talking to about my business.
Health, family, friends should all have an important place in our lives. These things had suffered badly from over zealous business networking. Deep fried canapes, never eating dinner with my kids, and “friends” who wanted my time (most of whom I never heard from once I stopped attending networking events by the way) were the price of networking that I was no longer willing to pay.
Don’t get me wrong. I whole heartedly believe there is a place for networking events and therefore, by default, networking groups. But in my opinion, we should all take the opportunity to Stop, take a look at what we are doing, and reset our networking modus operandi.
Once I did that myself, I had a few a-ha moments, that reminded me what great networking groups and events are all about. And I set about establishing a couple of back to basic groups that offer attendees a taste of that.
Here’s what I think are networking fundamentals:
1. The big prize is life, not a deal. Business, after all, is done by people and people have lives. When we forget that, we miss the opportunity to use business as a vehicle to impact people’s lives. Maybe the reason people cross our paths at business events, has much more to do with their life of yours than it does about your business or theirs. Get to know about people’s lives before you do a deal with them. The real treasure might be worth so much more than the deal.
2. There is no need to rush. Would you marry the first person you had coffee with? Isn’t that why we date someone, get engaged and maybe even live together before we marry? I have seen so many “partnerships” go down the drain because people rushed into a deal before getting to know their new “partner” well enough before signing on the dotted line.
3. Manners matter. I can’t even count the times I have been pushed out of the way of a food or drinks platter by a greedy desperado at a networking event. And don’t get me started on the number of times someone has interrupted a deep conversation to thrust a business card into my hand.
4. Welcome everyone. There is no place for cliques, gossip, name calling or exclusion in any networking group. Opportunities come from anywhere and everywhere, so be open to meeting new people, take some time to get to know them and trust that opportunities will present themselves. They always do.
5. Everyone doesn’t always get along. There is plenty of business to go around. Someone who rubs you the wrong way, or who doesn’t click with you, will get on fine with someone else. No one is perfect, including you! We all need to co-exist on the planet, in our community and in business. Let’s accept that the world is a diverse place and move on!
6. Servant heartedness is the ace card. It comes natural to some people and it’s how I live my life. If we approach every conversation from the place of servitude, and encourage that in the culture of our networking groups, everyone is a winner.
7. Every conversation is a learning opportunity. To learn something new is gold! Conversations and presentations at networking events offer a magical opportunity to share knowledge.
8. It’s about the members. When I see an event organiser, a committee or sponsor getting all the attention at an event, I know the group has its priorities wrong. Especially when a fee is payable as a ticket price or when a membership fee is payable, it is critical that the needs of the members are understood and form the basis of the service offered by the group. If you don’t answer needs, the members will walk!
Business Connect is an initiative of my company All My Admin. We host our clients and partners to a quarterly business breakfast, where we get the chance to talk to each other, hear from a speaker about a topic of interest, contribute to a charitable cause, and do business if we please. It’s a low cost, low effort style of event with only about 25 people attending each session, but it offers our clients the chance to get to know each other and for my team to touch base with them all face to face. I love watching our clients talk. They are a great bunch. I am proud to host these invitation only events.
Bella Vista Business Alliance (BVBA) is a 6 weekly gathering at Bella Vista Hotel. My dear friends Dmitry and Svetlana Greku of GWP Media are the brains behind this group. It’s conversations with Dmitry that had me reflect on what had gone wrong with networking. All My Admin now assists with the organisation of BVBA and we are pleased that the past two events have been wonderful successes, with over 70 people at both events. There is minimal formality at these events, with the speaker being asked to speak about their life and not necessarily their business. There is ample time to meet new people and catch up with old friends. GWP support members of the Alliance with their multiple media streams, including articles in their BiziNet magazine, video and online campaigns. Opportunities from these events abound. Again, there is a charitable component to each event, with the opportunity to share info and requests being made available to local charities at each event.
Add to this, delicious but healthy food options, old fashioned manners and kindness, and you have two networking groups that have recaptured the heart of what it is to do business in the Hills.
Last month’s Bella Vista Business Alliance event featured Bekir Kilic as the guest speaker, with a special appearance by TV small screen star Paula Duncan. The next event is on Sept 16 from 5.30pm and will feature Prue MacSween as our speaker for the month. You can see from the photo spread, that all attendees had a great evening of enjoyable conversation and delicious food from Bella Catering.
by Nicole Baines