Networking. Gladhanding. Schmoozing.
Call it what you will, I’ve done a lot of it. I’ll give most anything a crack once. So after a good 12 years of business networking, I’m in a pretty good position to identify the main kinds of networking experiences you’ll encounter on your own meet-n-greet rite of passage. Some are good. Some are less-good. Others are downright cultish. Some forums have more utility for meeting likeminded business partners than others do – but this utility heavily depends on your own personality and networking style, too. What might be the best forum for networking for me, might be the most terrifying one for you.
So today, I present to you the archetypes you’ll find allow your own rite of passage to networking nirvana. Or similar.
- The BNI Meeting
This is a bit of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge club. You’ll often be invited along to a BNI morning breakfast by a business acquaintance or someone from LinkedIn on the periphery of your network – you might be invited as a guest, or you might be invited to speak to the group.
Highly structured and with a big focus on return-on-investment from participants, BNI is pretty much an enforced referral club. It takes an investment of time to meet regularly, and at each meeting every member says something about their business to the group in a ’round table’ of sorts. You can imagine how this can become repetitive. I recommend you go along to a BNI if you’re asked to be a speaker – I’ve got business from every BNI I’ve been a guest speaker at, and it’s helped build my database too. Becoming part of a local BNI chapter is not my cup of tea, as the focus on tangible ROI for presence – and how much that particular BNI has written in referral fees for the financial year – is too intense. There’s naturally considerable social pressure to refer to group members – which is great if your crew is full of talented individuals – but less so if they’re lacklustre.
Suits You If:
- You’re very new to business and you’d like to expose your offering to a new audience.
- You’re highly analytic and want to chart ROI on errythang.
- You might be a little naturally nervous, and want to improve on your public speaking and elevator pitch in a welcoming environment.
If BNI were a person, they’d wear: A navy box-cut Peter Jackson suit and a gold tie-pin.
Commercial Women’s Networking Events
Imma looking at you, Business Chicks and League of Extraordinary Women! Gorgeously branded and hosted in pretty, marble/copper/flower-filled environs, these more commercial women’s networking events are deeply corporate in nature. They often feature some pretty amazing headliners – like Nigella Lawson – which draw a big crowd and feel quite deluxe. As far as enjoying a spectacle, these women’s business events deliver. What they don’t deliver on, however, is actual networking with fellow business women. They feel more like support clubs for corporates who’d like to learn the dark arts of climbing the ladder within an organisation rather than a forum for actual business owners and decision makers. Best to attend with friends, as these bigger events don’t provide the intimacy required to build new relationships. They are often very pretty, though, if slightly plasticated.
Suits you if:
- You feel like going to a spectacle that’s fully tax deductible with a goodie bag!
- You work within a corporate and already have tickets on the bawss.
- You’re interested in building your career within an organisation which is not your own.
If Commercial Women’s Networking events were a person, they’d wear: Samantha Wills jewellery, Chloe perfume and a shift dress from Karen Millen.
Local Women’s Networking Groups
These can be very, very good. They don’t have the corporate dollars behind them that their flashier, pinker and more marble-enhanced sisters do, but what they lack in style they make up for in pure heart. Expect a cup of tea in a chipped cup and a teddy bear biscuit, and also the chance to make real connections with other business owners in your area. One of my favorite networking organisations is the Moreland Business Women’s Group, which is a no-frills connection point for genuine business owners or those thinking about taking the chance on an idea. You can learn so much at these if you’re willing to make an effort and chat to people.
Suits you if:
- You’re friendly and good at making connections with strangers without structure.
- You are actually a business owner that wants to meet other business owners.
- You are looking to support other local experts in you area.
- You’re curious and community-minded.
If Local Women’s Networking Groups were a person, they’d wear: Something ethically produced, a baby in a fancy bike trailer and a KeepCup.
Serious Women’s Business Northside
So, Serious Women’s Business Northside is actually my own all killa no filla digital networking forum for women. You’re welcome to join us here. We have a thriving online community of over 300 actual business women based in Melbourne’s north, in addition to an extremely beautiful editorial-style website. We have a walking club, a book club and sweet-as wristbands. I’m sure you’ll like us: we’re a safe online space for business women and those wanting to try their hand at business to ask questions, share recommendations and generally be good eggs. And you can enjoy us all from the comfort of your couch.
There are lots of online forums and digital networks for business women, some of which are really awesome (like mine, natch) and others which can turn into sycophantic fangirling echo-chambers of wannabe business women. These can be really demotivating, and can sometimes make you doubt your own unique business ideas and your own personal aesthetic. Stay away from the meangirls is my recommendation.
Suits you if:
- You don’t have the time to regularly go to networking events out and about.
- You’re well-connected online (or would like to be!)
- You actually want to speak about issues effecting the business economy in Australia.
- You want the opportunity to support other excellent small businesses in your community.
- You have a sense of humor and enjoy realtalk.
If Local Women’s Networking Groups were a person, they’d wear: Radical Yes Shoes, a baby or a grandchild and athleisure from CottonOn.
Other unexpected places I love to network include food van parks, galleries and co-working spaces. It’s not like a stalk these places specifically to network, but I do tend to have interesting conversations with strangers in these situations. And sometimes a donut or nacho bowl, too.
The most important thing to know about networking? It’s not a race to distribute business cards and have 13 barely-memorable conversations with randoms. If you have one or two good, natural, warm-hearted conversations while networking, you’re doing it right. And if you send those you met a thank you note afterwards, you’re one memorable networker in a million.
All photography by Breeana Dunbar, who knows how to network.