So you have found a networking event and decided to go along. Whether it’s your first time or you are a seasoned networker, knowing who you are likely to find in the room can help to organise some priorities and seek out your best opportunities. Having said that, never discount anyone from your efforts, networking people know people and referrals are the name of the game. Many speak to lots of other networkers and business people and have deep, wide pools of contacts they can refer you to. Also, bear in mind how online networking such as LinkedIn will show their contacts YOUR details if you connect with them.
So, what types of people are you likely to find?
The Senior Professional
This person is very likely to be a speaker at the event. They are experts in their field, usually from a long-standing professional background in accountancy, law, banking, business etc. They are often more approachable than you may expect and are usually open to adding to their existing extensive base of contacts. Connect with these people by asking about them, their book, Twitter name, who they have worked with and where. They may ask you what you do, they may not, this is probably not one for a sales pitch unless there is an obvious match. If you can ask them something that they can get back to you on that’s great – it gives you an excuse to connect by LinkedIn or email after the event and keep the conversation open. Simply being connected or associated with these people can help raise your business profile.
This person could work for the networking organisation or be a local member. These people know EVERYONE they have LinkedIn connections coming out of their ears! They like bells, whistles, clipboards and name badges and run a tight networking ship. They tend to be experts at quickly identifying who will be useful to them if they are running their own business also. If they decide that’s you, they will target you with an intense laser-like focus. Always aim to find out what the organiser does, if you have a match between your businesses they will have you in their diary for a post-event appointment in a flash.
The MLM’er (Multi Level Marketing)
These are the people involved with larger businesses who use an independent sales force to sell their products and/or services. They are financed on sales commissions and compensation plans. In the UK most prevalent at business networking events seem to be Utility Warehouse, Arbonne and Forever Living but there are very many more. There are some very good salespeople in this group and many you meet will have built a substantial team. They are not especially interested in selling the product or service, although that is their opening gambit. What they want is MORE TEAM MEMBERS. Essentially these people are on one big recruitment drive. Some have other business interests and will register for the event as that but then bring their MLM opportunity into the conversation. These people have all the answers to every objection, they are well trained and have heard it all. They are also networking addicts and may even be an Organiser (see above). Seasoned MLM’ers are smart at identifying their opportunities early on, they will have studied the attendee list (which if also an Organiser they will have first sight of) and have pinpointed the people they want to talk to. They like sole traders, the self-employed, anyone in sales and stay-at-home parents. If MLM opportunities are your thing, they will be delighted to tell you all about their compensation plan, discounts, prizes and events. If it isn’t for you it’s probably best not to show too much interest in the products at a networking event as they will try to reel you in! Their upline organisation provides them with almost everything they need to run their show, so it is unlikely they will venture outside of that for other business supplies or services.
The Charity Executive
These people are really quite interesting, they are passionate about the charity they represent and tend to come from a solid charity sector, marketing, PR or event management background. Their main aim is to find sponsors for events and the like and they often have venues or other services belonging to their charity that they want to sell to businesses. They really like the word FREE and this can help you reach further into their organisation for contacts relevant to your business. For example, offering to Tweet or share in your Facebook group their event details usually goes down well. Building relationships and associating with charities is good for business and you never know who is involved with anyone charity at a higher level.
Franchisees come in many forms and experience and from many different sectors. Franchisees are not to be confused with MLM’ers as they are not normally on a recruitment drive. Most franchisees I have met at networking events are early on in their franchise and are building their business. I think I have met only one who was at the stage that they were interested in selling franchises themselves. Franchisees are open to help, contacts and new markets for their products and/or services. To make the differences clear a franchise owner has paid a company for the right to operate a business for that company’s products or services, most often within an agreed territory. This is usually a substantial investment – essentially buying a business off the shelf. Many high street shops, restaurants and services such as opticians are franchises. Ones you can expect to find at business networking events include travel, transport, fitness, business support and cleaning. You may also find people who were traditionally Freelancers (see below) such as PA’s, VA’s and Digital Designers working under a franchise such as Pink Spaghetti or SmartPA. Their focus is business within their territory so anything you can offer to grow their business or support them locally is good for them.
Essentially Freelancers (see below), Therapists warrant their own category. Covering a wide variety of services including Physiotherapy, Life Coaching, Alternative Medicine, Self Improvement, Personal Branding, Wellbeing and the list goes on. Their goals for networking vary but essentially they are looking for new customers to bring their therapy into the workplace. That could either be to deliver the therapy itself to workers, provide training in the therapy or to use their specialist knowledge to deliver an improvement course within organisations. They are usually happy to find new individual customers at networking events but be careful not to go off the topic of business with them and turn your time into a free therapy session! These people are usually very passionate and focused on what they do. They are open to hearing about services that will give them more time to spend with their clients or to develop courses. They tend to be one of the more open-minded groups of people at an event.
Another very diverse group of people who stand apart in so far as they 1) work in their own business, usually as self-employed and 2) have specialist skills. This includes VAs, PAs, web designers, copywriters, code programmers, digital designers, filmmakers, 3D modellers, single practice accountants, specialist solicitors, travel planners, event organisers, photographers, you get the picture I am sure. These people are looking for new customers to deliver their services and skills to and the business network ethos of referrals works really well here. They want you to refer them and will refer you in turn. These people probably have the most useful networks of contacts, they tend to know someone for every requirement so if your niche is a bit different or you have a speciality, they are sure to add you to their database of useful people! Business networking is made for The Freelancers – they are used to running the show in their business and are usually confident in what they do and know how to talk about it.
The SMB Specialists
This group is made up of professionals and consultants who are not so interested in The Freelancers or the MLM’ers – these people are seeking the small to medium-sized businesses. HR Consultants, lawyers, people from larger accountants and insurance company representatives fall into this category. Some are independent, some work as agents and some are employees. These people are on the lookout for small companies that are growing, taking on more staff, new premises etc. There can be some quite quirky specialists in this group and it is always worth listening as your business may need their services one day.
Next – Part III – At the Networking Event
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