This year was the year I had to get out of my comfort zone and do some real networking. My goal was go to at least 2 networking events a month, if not more. I figured that I would be able to meet the most people, pass out the most business cards and have a great level of influence. Sounds like a solid idea, right? I went to 35 networking meetings and mixers, had countless fingers foods, visited many country clubs and shook a lot of hands, but in the end I got one piece of business and made 3 solid connections. Sounds pretty bad? Well, my goal was never to make sales or even to make connections. I really wanted to make some solid relationships. What I found this year is that these events are attended mostly by people looking out for themselves. They are the social equivalent of spammers. I don't regret this experience though, because it taught me a valuable lesson. So what is the answer to this dilemma?
Ironically, I don't even drink coffee, but a couple of months ago I decided to experiment with making coffee meetings. I would find someone on linkedin or twitter (or they would connect with me) who looked interesting and I would invite them out for a coffee break. It has worked wonders. Why? 4 Reasons.
1. People love midday breaks and if you make it in a part of town they like, they'll be up for it
2. When making a lunch meeting, the person may be looking forward to the meal more than the meeting. Coffee lets you know right away they really want to meet you, because they can get it any time
3. Coffee is relatively cheap. When you pick up the tab you're not jeopardizing your retirement plans
4. It's a laid back meeting and therefore you get to really know the other person and then talk about cool stuff like graphic design, for example
I have made more of the relationships that I was looking for in just a few months than I did in almost a year of mixers. So you should stop with the networking meeting and mixers, right? No, keep going to them, but be picky. Make sure you're going to events where you're paying $25 (for example) instead of $10, because that assures an attendance by people who are serious about being there. Find as many free meetings as you can and use that time to practice. Make coffee meetings a goal at least 3 times a week. It will make a great difference in your business and the best part is you'll be making some new friends. Isn't that the goal these days?
So what are you doing that's unconventional in order to network? Do you have any other ideas? Or do you still think big events are the way to go? Please share.