I came home exhausted. I had a lot of work to do and didn't really have time to go out that night, have dinner, and network, but I did it anyway because that's what you do as a business owner. That's what you have to do to be successful and grow your business.
At the time I was attending three to five different local networking events every month. Some were at night, but at least two were during the day and each one cost me five or six billable hours — but it was okay because my networking efforts generated a lot of new leads and new clients.
Or so I thought...
Unfortunately I wasn't entirely correct. My networking efforts used to generate a lot of new leads and new clients, but the return on my networking investment was waning and I was in denial.
I had been attending these local networking events for a few years — and I credit many of the connections I made and the early success I had to those events and the people, referral sources, and clients met there. They were a great fit for my business and my pricing.
But over time my fees increased, then increased again, and increased again, and again. Soon, I was networking regularly, but my efforts were generating fewer and fewer my clients.
- Most of the attendees who could afford me had already hired me and were already clients
- Most new leads generated never converted into paying clients because they "couldn't afford me"
- Those who asked about my pricing at the event, responded with needing something cheaper
But I loved networking and kept on doing it. Not because I was actually networking and expanding my network, but because I had been going to the same events month after month for so long that it became more about spending time with friends than actually doing business. Plus, several attendees at each networking event were past clients or current clients, so it was easy to justify my efforts by making it about touching base with clients.
I was taking action based on what was best for me and not what was best for my business
One of my favorite networking events met the first Wednesday night of every month and several of us had standing plans for dinner and drinks before the event (which did make the event more fun). The event always concluded with "Hot Seats" — mini five minute mastermind sessions where an attendee could ask for help/feedback from other attendees.
One night, during this mastermind time, someone mentioned making a large sum of money from a launch of some kind. It's been so long, I don't remember the details, but I do remember with perfect clarity the response one member offered...
He replied, "Come on, you know no one in this room will ever make that much money."
I looked at my friend sitting next to me and while our shock wore off, we listened to others lament the same feeling.
At that exact moment, the saying "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with" popped into my head.
After the event some of us chatted in the parking lot. It was a bittersweet moment as we realized that while this networking group had been wonderful as we were starting our businesses, we had now outgrown the group — or at least the collective mindset. We didn't want to spend our time surrounded by people who didn't believe they could achieve great things, and had agreed that this was probably the last time we'd be attending.
I had to let go, move on, and make changes
I knew I had made the right decision upon the realization that I would miss the dinner and drinks prior the the event more than the actual event itself. At that moment I finally admitted to myself that I had to let go and move on. I could still see my friends socially and still have drinks, but I couldn't do it under the guise of business networking any more.
To continue to grow my business, I had to get uncomfortable.
Networking had become fun and easy because I already knew almost everyone in the room:
- I rarely had to answer the dreaded question, "What do you do?"
- I rarely had to ever talk about my business or promote myself because everyone already knew me and my successes
- I rarely had to try (which should have been a signal)
- I just got to chat with friends who happened to also do business
It was comfortable and it made me lazy. I loved networking because I wasn't really networking. I was pretending to network and it was hurting my business.
If You Want To Grow Your Business, You Must Get Uncomfortable
The networking groups you join and networking events you attend when you're first starting out, building your client base and portfolio, and figuring out your business structure/model, may not be the same as the groups and events you attend once you're more established.
As your business grows and evolves over time, you grow and evolve as a business owner, and the places and people you network with also need to grow and evolve.
- You need to regularly schedule opportunities to walk into a room full of people you don't know — or don't know well — and introduce yourself
- You need to schedule opportunities to feel nervous, excited, and slightly out of your element — it will push you to get better
- You need to talk about your business, about what you do, who you serve, and why you're a great choice — and you need to do it a lot because the more you do it, the better and more clear you'll get
No one can hire you, buy from you, or learn from you if they don't know that you exist. It's your job to make sure they do know that you exist, and that you're a great choice.
Leverage Your Networking Time For The Best Results
When choosing how, where, and when you are going to network, you need to evaluate each event, the attendees, the time it costs you, and the actual cost of the ticket and travel.
First look at:
- How many attendees may fit your ideal client profile, or are people you would wan to have as a client?
- How many leads could you generate, how many may convert to paying clients, and how long does it take them to convert?
- How many sales must be made to break even? How many do you need to come out ahead?
Then look at the investment for the event:
An average local networking event with about 50 attendees costs $50 and about five hours of billable time. At a rate of $75/hour, the event costs $425 to attend. If your average project is $1,000 and you convert just one person to a paying client, this event was a great investment.
An average three day conference with 500+ attendees costs about $2,500 for the ticket, travel, and airfare, and three days of billable time. At the rate of $75/hour, the event costs $4,300 to attend. If your average project is $5,000, you only have to convert one person out of the 500+ attendees to break even.
Networking is about doing more of what works for you.
Today I am in my tenth year of business and I do very little local networking. Based on where I am in business right now, it is much more lucrative to attend large conferences and events with 300-500 potential ideal clients in one place, than it is to attend an event with 1-5 potential ideal clients. At a larger event, I simply meet more people in less time. Meeting more people means more people know we exist. More people knowing about us leads to more leads and more referrals. More leads and referrals means more sales.
But successful networking isn't about doing what works for me. It's about doing what works best for you and your business based on where you are at in business right now.
If a networking group is working great for you, keep doing it. If one networking group starts to produce fewer results over time, try a different networking group with new people. If you're not getting great results at smaller networking events, try attending large conferences and workshops.
Remember that networking is all about making connections and building relationships.
To find great networking success, you can't show up once to a networking event, push your business cards at people, never go back again, and expect to see results. You need to keep showing up over time and give people a chance to get to know you and your business.
Just be sure to always track your networking results, so you know if your efforts are really producing new leads and new clients … or you're just spending time with friends with business as the excuse.
Now what about you?
Have you had similar experiences? Do you love your local networking group? Where have you found the best networking success? We'd love to hear about your networking experiences in the comments below.