When is networking, not networking?

I was talking to a group of writers this week about pretending you’re writing. A pretence everyone recognised was that reading how-to-write books equated to writing. It does not! The books may be interesting, give you tips or make you think about writing techniques in a new way, but it isn’t writing. To do that, you need to write!

It got me thinking about my recent blog on Maslow for the Micro Business, where I noted the importance of networking for developing and growing your business. I know you’re thinking that attending meetings, industry events, conferences and social events are part of any business owner’s life, and it’s all networking right?

Networking is about building relationships between businesses that could benefit both parties, or simply put it’s about developing potential new clients or suppliers. So are all events networking? They are certainly all networking opportunities. However many micro businesses operate in niche markets, like us in remote sensing earth observation. You need to be honest with yourself when you attend an event, and consider who in the room is a potential new client or supplier? Is anybody?

Think about the events you attend, are they true networking opportunities? You may talk about business at these events, you may talk about your business and you may even give out the odd business card, but if no-one has the potential to be a client or supplier, then don’t pretend to yourself that you’re networking.

Professional development, scientific updates, discussion groups, learning sets or catching up with business friends are all useful and valid ways to spend time as a micro business owner. In some cases you’ll learn new skills or get new ideas, but they aren’t networking. Of course don’t turn your networking head off altogether as there is always the exception to the rule, where the person you are talking with has a next door neighbour, brother, sister–in-law or friend in your field.

However these happy occurrences are the exception to the rule. If you want to develop new clients or suppliers, you need to go to the events that they go to; not expect them to come to the events you go to.

Analyse your time outside of business delivery. Are you going to real networking opportunities? If the answer is no, then ask yourself if you are going to the right events?

Find the right events, go to them and talk to your potential clients and suppliers, get their details and follow up with them after the event. In essence, don’t pretend that you’re networking, go and network.