A little birdy told me that joining a networking group would help me build my business quicker than I could on my own. This friend made $25K+ in the first month he joined a group a few years previously. The reality is, $25K back then probably would have killed me and my fledgling business. But I am always up for a challenge and if I needed to produce $25,000 worth of cakes then I would find a way to make it happen!
Networking can be expensive and time consuming. Is it worth it?
I have spent the last year and a half networking all over Brisbane. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and after dinner. Some weeks I felt like I hadn’t been home other than to sleep and I work from home!!! The cost of networking can add up quickly but the one cost I feel most people forget, is time. For me, this was incredibly important as my time is so valuable.
As an example, if you join a group like BNI there is a yearly cost to be a member (approx $1200 for the first year and about $800-900 for every year after that) as well as breakfast costs every week (up to $30 per week). The breakfast meeting runs almost two hours when you include networking before and after. There is also an expectation of meeting with at least one member once per week (more in some chapters). Even using minimum wage as an hourly rate, the total cost to be a member for a year is almost $7,000.
So what do you get for $7000 a year?
I have a circle of informed business people whom I can ask for advice without being charged by the hour
I was a member of BNI for a year. Say what you will about BNI (and there has a lot been said), I can still feel the effects of my membership even 6 months after I went to my last meeting. There are BNI members I still do regular business with, I have friends that I catch up with and (maybe most importantly) I have a circle of informed business people whom I can ask for advice without being charged by the hour. Recently, I needed a lawyer and I knew who to call and who I could trust. Now not everyone in BNI is created equal, this is just life. But you quickly work out who is the real deal.
I have had random encounters at networking events and meetings that have had a positive effect on me and my business. After a Lord Mayor’s Business Forum, I was contacted by an Account Manager from 96.5 Family Radio. She had seen me at the event and had wanted to get in touch. Since then we have become fast friends and she is someone I go to when I need some uplift and motivation. I also had the privilege of doing the 96.5 Family Radio Christmas gifting last year and in turn we will be doing a spot of radio advertising in February.
It’s about putting yourself out there.
Another such meeting happened through the Brisbane Small Business Facebook page. While not strictly a networking event it is a way to network with other business owners. When I joined the group a girl commented on something that I posted and I reached out to her. We met for coffee and she introduced me to one of the corporate concierges in the city. Fast forward a year and half and I now do business with companies in all 5 of their Brisbane buildings, we have held events in each building and we sell our cakes direct through their online shop. This has also lead to a sister company who have approx 5-10 buildings in the city. We are now on their online store and we are doing business with the companies in their buildings.
Building these relationships are vital for my business but they don’t come easy. Each relationship is built step by step.
Building these relationships are vital for my business but they don’t come easy. Each relationship is built step by step. Trust is a huge thing in business and if people can’t trust you then they won’t do business with you. What might seem like a random encounter has the chance of becoming so much more if you nurture it and take the time and effort to genuinely take interest in that person (and not just be shoving a business card in their hand).
What is the final tally?
The numbers don’t lie. Looking at my figures for December, networking accounted for 48% of my business. 48%!!!! That is crazy. BNI was 31% making it the second highest after leads that came through my website at 39%. These customers were people I met directly at networking events, referrals from people I met and people who ordered when they received a cake or cupcakes from a networking customer. These are my absolute favourite. One of our biggest customers came from a BNI member who sent one of their clients some cupcakes. Their client loved them so much they then became our customer. They send several boxes of cupcakes a month to their staff at all their Brisbane outlets.
Effort equals results
If you have ever thought about what networking can do for your business, I say, give it a go. But remember, you will only get out of it what you put in. The people I remember the best are those that made contact with me after the event. And the people I did business with were the ones I was proactive in building a relationship with. But don’t just rely on the money stream. Relationships will not only support your business financially they will also support you emotionally. No one knows better what you are going through as a small business owner than another small business owner.