So, you know that networking can be the lifeblood of business success, but how do you find the right people and the right events? There are lots of different ways to find groups and events near you. This guide introduces you to the main organisations who organise and list networking events and suggests the best ways to find the networking groups that will most suit you and your business.
Many business networking events are regional but there are several national business networking organisations and groups. The longest established is BNI (Business Networking International) that has groups known as "chapters" all over the UK. Some people find it a powerful way of getting referrals, but it's equally criticised for its conservative approach and particularly for only allowing one representative per profession in a chapter - meaning it's not useful for meeting others in your profession. You also have to pay and commit to weekly meetings - as such you should consider alternatives and if it is really for you before making the commitment.
The Business Referral Exchange (BRE) is much like the BNI, but it doesn't restrict you from joining other networking groups.
The UK's fastest growing networking organisation 4Networking has clearly juxtaposed itself to BNI and BRE, as the modern networking alternative. Founder Brad Burton says 4Networking is about creating an environment that's "50% business, 50% social" and where "anyone can meet, swap leads, share laughs, win business... and just be themselves".
4Networking primarily runs breakfast networking sessions (although it is expanding to provide other events and training) and has a thriving online community. It has 50,000+ members and 5,000+ sessions a year, five days a week, so there's almost certainly a group in your area. Membership starts free - giving you online access and your initial three meetings - ranging to a 12-month passport for £499.
One of the big benefits of 4Networking is that you only pay for meetings you attend and you can access events across the country, not just in your region.
Most independent networking events are regional, but there are plenty of places online to find out what's going on in your area.
Try www.findnetworkingevents.com - it does exactly what the name suggests, and splits groups regionally. Meetup is good for finding specialised groups, while Eventbrite lists all the public events it manages the tickets process for, and can be a good source for interesting networking events.
Facebook is increasingly business-orientated and most organisers find its group and event system the best way to promote their events. Likewise, Twitter and LinkedIn are a great way of finding out about events. Simply following prominent business individuals in your region across all social media is likely to flag the events they're attending to your attention.
Your local Chamber of Commerce will also run its own networking events and groups and should also be able to advise you of other events going on in your area. Even if they don't, they'll be able to introduce you to other entrepreneurs who you can ask.
Many regions will also have events focusing on specific trades or industries too, and searching with this in mind can be productive. For example, East London's Silicon DrinkAbout run by 3Beards, and Moshi Monsters, and Mind Candy founder Michael Smith, is very popular with the London tech crowd, leading to other similar events popping up such as those run monthly by Croydon Tech City.
The growth in shared workspaces and business members' clubs are also excellent places to not just find events but also meet like-minded individuals every day.
Ask people! If people are deriving genuine value from a business network or event, they'll be only too happy to share that with you, so make sure you ask like-minded business people you meet how and where they make their contacts. It sounds obvious, but so many people don't ask!
Your local library (The British Library Business & IP Centre) has a brilliant events programme, while cafes and local publications often advertise regional events. You should also subscribe to as many local trade business titles, newsletter or online groups as possible.