“This person doesn’t benefit me.” 

“I’m not getting any business.” 

Have you ever said, or thought, either of these things about a networking event or while involved in a business organization? It’s not the first time I’ve heard them, which is why they merit a mention here.

When you say these things out loud or to yourself, it’s likely that your first reaction is that you’re in the wrong place, or the organization is faulty. But consider for just a moment that maybe the networking barrier in these scenarios is actually you. 

I know, that’s hard to hear, but hear me out and keep an open mind.

Let’s first look at the idea that the person you’re talking to at an event doesn’t benefit you and your business.

Think about when you’ve invested time in speaking with someone and learning more about them, only to find out that they’re in another unrelated industry – maybe they don’t have the power to hire you, they don’t deal with legal matters at all in their day-to-day lives, and your work is as foreign to them as theirs is to you. It feels like the networking effort has been a waste – but I’m here to tell you that it’s never a waste.

If you connect with someone and get along with them, it doesn’t matter what industry they’re in, or whether they can give you business. You are enhancing your reputation simply by speaking with them, and you never know where your next referral will come from.

Consider the following scenario – you speak at length with someone that is not in a position to give you business (and vice versa). They really like you as a person, and you exchange information, but you doubt it will be useful. Later that evening, the person is speaking with someone else at the networking event, and finds out that he or she needs a lawyer with your qualifications. Your new friend becomes a connector, and says, “I just met Bob, who is the perfect person to help you with that. Let me introduce you, since he’s here tonight too.”

We can’t predict where our next introduction, referral, or even reputation amplification will come from, so every connection we make is valuable. Plus, it’s just not very nice to go through life wondering what people can do for you – think about what you can do for them, and you’ll be happier AND find yourself with business! That sounds very Pollyanna of me, I know, but without trying to sound too cheery about it, when you look at strong, truly effective business developers and rainmakers, they are extremely friendly, excellent connectors, and hard workers – they’re not people looking for the next best thing, and everyone is happy to give them business because they genuinely like them and want to work with them.

Related to that is the idea that you’re not getting business through a networking event or organization – and this complaint requires digging a bit deeper.

There are some cases where this happens because you’re not in the right organization, and no matter how much effort and care  you put into it, you will never get business from it. If your main purpose is business networking (and not, say, volunteering), then you’ve identified that it doesn’t work for you, and you can move on to investing your energy elsewhere. But in general, let’s presume that you’ve done your due diligence before joining an organization, and you are committed to trying to make it work for you. If it’s not, you may need to ask yourself some key questions:

  • How long have I given the organization/event to work? Did I go to one event and leave without business, and now I think it doesn’t work for me? Or have I been going to events regularly for years without success? If it’s the former, you need to give it more time – networking is a marathon, not a sprint. You will rarely, if ever, go to one event and come out with business.
  • What is my criteria for referrals? Do I only look at direct referrals, or do I also weigh those that come from friends that I’ve made through the organization who have moved on to other companies, secondary referrals that people within the organization have given me, etc.?
  • How much natural business is coming into my jurisdiction? Should I be expecting referrals in, and I’m not seeing them, or is business more naturally outgoing? Are we in a down-cycle at the moment, and if so, how can I be shoring up my relationships so that when business picks back up again, I’m the first call?
  • Did I speak with multiple people at the event, or just one? Did I introduce myself to new people, or stick with the same group that I’m comfortable with?
  • Did I arrive late and leave early? Or did I come early, chat with the event organizers to see if they could introduce me to key people after I shared my goals with them?
  • Did I arrange to follow up with the people that I met at the event, by connecting with them on LinkedIn, arranging to meet for lunch or to have a phone call with them? Did I create specific opportunities for follow up, and then follow up on those?
  • Did I set goals for myself for the event (such as meeting five new people) and meet those goals? Or did I stay a wallflower wondering if someone would introduce themselves to me?
  • Did I talk about myself and my practice the entire conversation, or did I ask questions that could help me identify where I could perhaps be the solution to someone’s problem? Did I potentially identify connections to introduce my new contacts to, or clients, etc.?

We all like to think networking is as easy as walking into a room, chatting to some people and being friendly, and walking out with more business. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. When you put a little bit of extra thought into the before, during and after of any networking event, you can make it work for you. It may take a strong look in the mirror to identify whether you’re being truly honest about where the barrier to your networking success lies, but you may surprise yourself with long-term success!