Over the last couple of months, due to my new, exciting journey into copywriting and photography entrepreneurship, I’m pretty sure I have accidentally made it to almost every networking event in the Leeds area.
It’s been a bit intense.
I wasn’t even planning to write about it but… here I am – writing about it. And that’s because I think there’s quite a bit of weirdness (and often, fear) about the concept of ‘networking’ that I would like to address.
Networking: is it worth it?
I initially went into the world of ‘networking’ with a “I want to find work!” mindset.
I went into networking with this very clear, false concept of networking: an image of people milling about trying to be serious, talking about themselves, selling themselves, with a singular aim: self-promotion.
This view has gradually transformed into something different. Yes, people still have their eye on promoting themselves; there’s seriousness, there’s sometimes suits. But networking is, generally, just a bunch of people meeting up and talking. Sometimes there’ll be speakers and a structure. Sometimes not.
I feel like it’s time to stop defining networking as this straightforward, scary thing.
(I also feel like I’ve said networking so many times that Google is definitely going to think this article is spam.)
Opinion: networking is expensive
Both financially and energy-wise.
Events can range from £5-£25 a time. Many groups do yearly memberships that, admittedly, can seem a bit pricey (especially to a newly starting freelancer!)
My experience: yes, you generally are going to be paying a little something to go to a networking event. But often there’s food or drink included in that price! There’s one really relaxed group in Leeds, Wapentalkie, where you can get a vegan roast dinner (or whatever else off of the dinner menu) as part of your £11 ticket.
There are also quite a few free events out there, too; it’s worth looking for them and trying them out.
And yes, it can be emotionally draining to go out into a group of people. It can be scary. I’ve been there and there’s no way past this except to take control of your networking experience.
Me? I take my camera to these events and snap some photos whenever I want a break.
Opinion: networking is a waste of time
My experience: it’s quite presumptuous to assume that just because you haven’t gotten anything out of your networking experience that everybody else will find networking useless.
It’s important to ask yourself the question:
What do you want to get out of networking?
I want to get work
You might be disappointed if you think you’re going to just stroll into a networking event, pitch yourself, and be offered a ton of work immediately.
The seven points of contact might be a bit outdated in today’s modern age of marketing, but there’s still an element of truth to it. People aren’t likely to hire your services after one point of contact (i.e. meeting you).
I mean, there are networking groups that are very ‘get-work-refer-each-other’ oriented, like BNI.
According to some members I’ve spoken to, over 50% of their revenue is owed to their local BNI group. Take this with a pinch of salt if you want but larger business owners might get their yearly membership back with just one referral.
Who knows. Research it.
Often, people will go to networking events with the aim of getting work, but then realise that they’re actually content with having the following outlook, instead…
I want to build connections
Being around like-minded people creates a wealth of positivity to your personal and business development. For myself, in particular, building a group of young female entrepreneurs around me has redefined my definition of business and networking and is allowing me to carve out my own unique niche in this world with the support of those around me.
This connection-building ties in very closely with that feeling of:
I want inspiration
When working for yourself, it can be hard to:
- stay positive when things don’t progress quickly enough
- stay self-disciplined and motivated
- maintain direction
- come up with a constant stream of ideas
The inspiration you gain from others at events can often be so organic and beneficial to your personal and business growth. Other people might consciously give you ideas for your business: “have you ever thought about trying [awesome idea]” or it might be a little subtle: seeing how they connect with others, listening to their stories, seeing their logos, business cards – whatever. Being around other entrepreneurs is, basically, the perfect form of inspiration.
Also, hearing people’s ‘failure-I-went-bankrupt-and-now-look-at-me-stories’ in person is great. It really helps you chalk your failures as learning experiences rather than apocalyptic events.
Inspiration and connection will lead to work.
People will recognise you and, if you’re good at what you do, they’ll recommend you.
Even if somebody doesn’t lead to work, they might be somebody you bounce ideas and inspiration off. People are great.
So, is networking worth it?
In a nutshell:
- If you’re smart about it, yes.
- If you know what you want and target your efforts towards that, yes.
- If you are open to your networking ‘aims’ being fluid, yes.
- If you’re not looking at networking as some kind of magic get-all-the-work touchdown, yes.
(But, I think it’s up to you to give it a try – and I don’t just mean a couple of events! – and find out for yourself).
Like what I have to say about networking? Look down. Now little a little left. Subscribe to my newsletter for my networking top tips!
And, of course, get in touch if you’re a bit taken by my writing or photography.