Networking can be an excellent marketing tool to include in the mix. Because networking is often a favorite, it’s also easy to spend more time, money, and effort than it’s worth. Here’s how to use a simple matrix to make informed decisions.
Create a matrix or table that has six columns:
- Column 1 – Organization and event
- Column 2 – Time
- Column 3 – Cost
- Column 4 – Biz Dev
- Column 5 – Other
- Column 6 – Notes
Use as many rows as you need to list all of the stuff you do networking-wise – one per row.
Organization and events column
It’s usually best to list only the memberships you now have, and the events you currently attend.
List membership in its own row. e.g., “Chamber membership.”
Below the membership row, list each of the related events in separate rows. Do not lump the events together. Show any board and/or committee meetings in their own rows, as well as any meetings or events you lead as a volunteer.
If you meet one-on-one with people to develop relationships, and do this on a regular basis, give this its own row.
If there are any annual meetings or events that include something you consider networking, give each one of these a row, as well. For example, if you participate in a few golf tournaments each year, list each one on a separate row.
For each row, fill the time and cost columns this way
Use monthly time and cost.
Time does not apply to the rows showing membership. For the other rows, show time spent per month.
Include the time it takes to get there; time for the meeting and pre- and post-socializing; and time to get back to the office. (Include time it takes to go home as you wish.)
Again, you want to come up with a monthly cost for each row. Divide membership cost by 12, do the same for annual events such as golf tournaments. Divide meetings you attend every two months by two; multiply any weekly events by four; etc.
Include cost for the event, parking or transportation, drinks and snacks, tips, etc.
Include membership and other costs even if paid by your company. You can use this data if you want to request budget for different memberships, etc.
- Biz Dev column:
Place a check-mark or X in this column for groups and/or events that have generated business for you. This includes meeting people at events who are not your direct prospects but have referred you to good prospects — which is how most networking actually works.
However, be sure to enter a check-mark or X only if you have actually received reasonably-qualified or appropriate leads (whether you got the business or not).
If you have not yet received good leads, but have not been active in the group or event for at least one or two years, enter a question mark.
If you’ve been active in the group or event for two or more years but have not received good leads, leave it blank.
- Other column:
Networking can provide different forms of “other” value; including support from peers, continued education, access to people who can advise you, and camaraderie. Membership in some groups can also be essentially required; e.g., in many areas, businesses are expected to be members of the Chamber of Commerce.
Enter check-marks or an X in the “other” column for membership and/or events that have already — and continue to provide — this kind of value.
Enter a question mark if you have only begun membership or attendance, or if you’re not getting as much out of the group/event as you used to.
Leave it blank if none of the above apply.
- Notes column:
You may find it useful to note the length of membership or regular attendance here. However, many people leave the notes space blank at first, adding notes about actions or questions after analysis.
Add up the time and cost. What are the monthly totals — how much time and money are you spending each month?
Notice where you have check-marks or X. Notice where you have blanks, especially.
Is it time to make some changes?
What about leads groups?
BNI and similar groups call themselves “networking” organizations but they are primarily leads groups. (BNI is a very good one, by the way.) Include these, as well as any other official leads groups, in your matrix and analysis.
Rotary, Optimists, Junior League, etc. do not call themselves networking organizations and frown upon using membership for that purpose. However, if you hope to develop business from them, include them in your analysis.
How long should you give it?
There are two kinds of value you can get from networking. The kind of value that falls into the “other” column should be clear within a few months — a year at the very most.
As for business development value; that generally takes two or three years to roll and will require nurturing on your part. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. Be visible, be proactive in developing relationships one-on-one, and be patient.
The exception to the two or three year guideline are leads groups, and “mixers” for many chambers of commerce. If active participation doesn’t pay off in business development within one year, consider letting go.