There has been an explosion of business networking groups in recent years. From weekly breakfast meetings to ad hoc drop-in sessions, there is no shortage of choice. But it is important to find a format that works for you and your business.
The Women in Business Network (WIBN) has been successfully supporting professional women and female entrepreneurs since 2005. It has grown to a network of 115 groups, with more than 1,500 members across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Each group is made up of women from different industries, and we work hard to ensure there is a good balance of businesses in each group.
That includes having complementary professions to boost collaboration. For example, for financial advisers there are many referral opportunities to work alongside mortgage brokers, accountants and solicitors. This attention to detail makes a real difference to the quality of networking, because business flows more readily when there are natural connections.
These groups meet once a month for a mixture of open networking, roundtable updates, business topics and member spotlight session. The format works because the meetings have a strong business focus without being overly formal.
It is vital you get a good return on your investment when you put time, energy and money into networking. We see high levels of business being exchanged between our members and via referrals across and outside the network. That is because we focus on developing meaningful relationships where people build the all-important know, like and trust factors. This means people are more likely to want to work with you and recommend you to their connections. This is particularly important for financial services professionals, where trust is such a key factor.
Many of our members are running their own businesses, leaving corporate careers to pursue their passion or to create a lifestyle that fits with their family commitments. More often than not, they no longer pay into a pension scheme or make formal provisions for the future. People with financial expertise are always crucial.
We have one person per profession in each group, so those spaces are often in high demand. But there are many groups to choose from, so you will be able to find a meeting to suit you. What these sessions are not is an opportunity to pitch for business.
I have done a lot of networking in my time, both inside and outside the WIBN. I have seen a vast range of approaches and some pretty horrible mistakes. If you have ever been on the receiving end of someone talking at you about their business, you will know how off-putting that is.
Hard-selling does not work, and it is not much fun if you are stuck with that person for the entire meeting. At the WIBN, we focus on adding value and supporting each other, offering help, advice, encouragement and contacts. When we ask our members what they value most about the WIBN, the supportive environment comes out on top.
To get the most out of networking, you need to put effort into one-to-one meetings outside the group and following up with people. You can also get more involved by offering to host a workshop, running a business topic or engaging in online communities.
If you immerse yourself in all there is to offer, networking can be incredibly beneficial to your business and personal development. Many of our members renew year after year, so they become firm friends.
You usually get a good feel for whether a group is right for you from the moment you walk in the room, so it is worth visiting a few networks before making a commitment. If you would like to try out a WIBN group near you, we would love to hear from you.
Lindsay Loxley is managing director of The Women in Business Network and Compass Financial Management