Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

Rethinking networking events

6 min read

Networking has a bad reputation. Perhaps you’ve already had enough awkward small talk in your life. Or maybe you despise golf courses and country clubs. That’s ok. You have options.

Networking has changed

Old-school networking used to be about your golf handicap, or who could dominate conversation at meet-and-greet events. But it’s so much more diverse now. There are networking events for all sorts. It’s never been easier to get started. Even for introverts.

It’s a dialog, not a broadcast

Networking is a form of marketing. But whereas most of your marketing is one-to-many communications – like advertising, website, blogs and social media – networking is more personal. You’re engaging with individuals to build relationships one by one.

It’s hard to measure the return on investment with networking, but all successful business people swear by it. Networking:

  • generally doesn’t cost you anything

  • generates leads and, even better, referrals (which are more likely to convert into sales)

  • helps you find people you’d actually enjoy working with

  • connects you with influential people

  • gives you a chance to personalize your brand

  • allows you to get advice and support from peers

Unconventional networking events

The most successful networking events are social gatherings. When people are taken away from their workday roles, conversation becomes more natural. It breaks down expectations and helps put all participants at ease.

So if you feel uncomfortable at traditional networking events, try to find something with a different format or a more casual atmosphere. Some quirky examples include:

  • Business speed dating
    Participants fill out a survey ahead of the event that explains their business and what they’re looking for. Compatible participants are grouped together for one-to-one 5-minute conversations before the floor is open for more traditional mingling. It takes away the need to compete for attention.

  • Late night gatherings
    Multimedia company Mashable hosted a private late night event at a speakeasy lounge from 11.30pm until 2am. The invite-only marketing event was intended to appeal to a younger audience, but it proved so popular that it attracted senior executives from major companies all over the world.

  • Tech-free networking
    Participants leave their phones at the door and focus on socialising. They’ll spend less time looking at their devices and more time getting to know each other. People can exchange business cards and write email addresses and phone numbers on notepads – the old fashioned way.

When people are taken away from their workday roles, conversation becomes more natural. It breaks down expectations and helps put all participants at ease.

The introvert’s salvation: social media networking

Even the most creative and enjoyable networking events can be challenging for introverts. Thankfully you can use social media as part of your networking efforts.

The advantage of online networking lies in the communities you can join. You can find like-minded accountants that use the same software, serve the same industries, or work in the same area.

You can do the same with potential clients. There may be social networking events for businesses in your local community. Or, if you have a niche practice, you might look for events that are specific to the field you serve.

Tweet chats

Because it’s such a strong real-time platform, Twitter is perhaps the most common social media for online networking events. Twitter chats are held at a certain time (often every week) to discuss specific topics. People who are involved in the dialog use a dedicated hashtag, so you can easily find the conversation and join in.

There’s even an app that automatically adds the hashtag to your tweets, so you don’t have to keep punching it in. You can find tweet chats for:

  • specific industries, if you have a niche practice

  • certain regions, if you want to find work in your town

Finding a Twitter chat

As you can imagine, there are hundreds of Twitter chats out there. Some are better attended than others. There will be a fair amount of trial and error to find the ones that work for you. But they’re scheduled for certain times and you don’t have to move from your desk or couch to attend them, so it’s easy to check in and evaluate their worth.

Finding them can also be tricky. You can try Twitter chat listings like Chat Salad, Tweet Reports, and #Twubs. Be warned, however, that there’s a lot of content on these sites and it’s not necessarily business focused – so it could be a lengthy search. You might be better off searching on “(field) + twitter chat” or “(region) + twitter chat” using a search engine.

Just remember that, while social can be a great, travel-free alternative to in-person networking, it’s not a replacement. You’re more likely to make a strong connection with someone if you meet them face to face.

The advantages of social media:

  • You can access social networks from your phone, anytime.

  • It doesn’t cost anything and there’s no travel.

  • It’s instant and informal.

  • There’s no small talk (and no golf).

  • You can meet people from all over the country and the world.

The disadvantages of social media:

  • It’s harder to be memorable over the internet.

  • You lose all the important, non-verbal cues of in-person communication.

  • It can be harder to make an emotional connection.

  • If you post content, it’s open to public criticizm.

  • Creating great content can be time consuming.

Your life is one big networking event

Don’t have time to attend formal networking events, even online? That doesn’t mean you can’t meet people. There are opportunities all around you. You could connect with a future client at your child’s school, or while watching sports at a bar.

If you have a passion, try to use it for networking. People you meet through shared interests are easier to speak to and they’ll already feel connected to you. Sports clubs, community groups and enthusiast clubs are great places to find a client or score a recommendation.

Just remember that others might not be networking like you are, so respect their space and don’t be pushy. Keep the conversation natural and only mention your business if it makes sense. But if it comes up, leave them a card so they can find you again.

How to find networking events

There are probably a lot more networking events in your local area than you thought. You can find them using:

  • your local Chamber of Commerce

  • Meetup.com, which helps you search for all manner of groups in your local area

  • LinkedIn groups, which organizes users into business categories so you can find contacts in specific industries

  • Business Networking International (BNI), which is a more traditional networking group with global membership

  • social media searches

And don’t forget your old school or university. Tertiary institutions sometimes maintain an alumni website, and might even host regular alumni events. Old classmates and professors know you well and could be valuable contacts.

It’s about who you know

The old mantra, ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ still holds true today. Whether you’re looking for partners, clients, staff – or just trying to stay up to date with field trends – networking can be a valuable exercise.

You don’t have to love it, but you needn’t dread it either. There are a lot of of ways to meet people and networking is becoming less formal.

If you look in the right places, you’re sure to find an event that suits your personality. So consider ditching the tired old meet-and-greets and get involved in some more casual networking events.