I am not anti-networking but I am not a fan of attending offline networking events that waste my precious, valuable time. I have wasted a lot of time and energy attending business networking events that didn't help my business. I also think it really depends on your market, regional location, and the types of business owners/entrepreneurs you connect with at these events. As a former fundraiser, I was forced to attend many networking events that I found to be a huge waste of time so I learned a few networking lessons over the years, and how to screen these networking events/groups more carefully.
Have you found yourself collecting a lot of cards at these events but you either don't follow up with these leads OR these leads end up being flaky and unreliable? I seem to bat zero when I attend these events--and it's not from lack of trying. I followed up with leads, and even wrote up proposals for potential clients. But the lack of professionalism turned me off so I chose not to return to these groups. I just wasn't feeling it.
I've made the decision NOT to attend offline business networking events anymore. If you have run across similar challenges with networking groups, I recommend that you consider either scaling back your business networking groups and/or doing away with them altogether.
So what about the human personal touch? You can still get that personal touch when you connect with potential clients and leads from your Facebook page and/or LinkedIn. It also allows you to screen people better before you make that face-to-face contact. Another bonus: you don't waste time and money traveling to a networking event--only to discover it was a big dud and you just wasted precious time networking with people that don't have any interest in your products or services.
Bottom line: What is your return on investment if you attend a business networking event? Just to socialize and have fun? I'm not anti-fun, but there is a time and place for having fun. If you attend these events for the heck of it, without any solid goals in mind, I suggest you re-think your lead generation strategies.
Before you attend an offline networking event, ask yourself the following five questions.
1. Do I have the time/energy/money to take ________hours out of my day/evening to attend this event?
2. Do your homework first. Are the right people going to be at this event? My target markets? Potential leads/clients? Other business owners who complement my industry and aren't my competitors?
3. Do I have to pay a fee to attend? Do I have the budget to invest in a fee-based networking group? What do I receive (perks, benefits, etc.) in return for my dues/fees?
4. Am I obligated to produce referrals/leads to others in the group? Some networking groups (leads-based groups) have a mandatory rule that you must contribute so many leads per week/month to the group.
5. Are there other avenues/marketing channels (i.e. social media, etc.) that I could pursue that will give me a better return on my investment?
I've been down that road with networking groups and I found them to be a huge waste of my time. I am not against networking, but I am not a fan of wasted time and energy. If you find yourself wasting a lot of time at these events and you don't get viable leads as a result, you might want to ditch the offline networking for now and stick with online marketing channels.