I do a lot of networking and one of my favorite questions to ask and answer is “where do you network?” I was reminded of this when buying my tickets to attend the WBENC National Conference in Michigan this after just having attended the WBENC Summit and Salute in Dallas last month. While I was in Dallas there was a blizzard in the DC area. Schools were closed, which meant work was closed for my husband who had to cobble together plans for work and childcare. When people asked me how the conference went, the first thing I mentioned was the outdoor reception I attended in beautiful weather while I got videos from my family bundled up and hunkering down. A nice party alone, however, would not make up for the substantial financial and domestic cost. The real story is that I attended the conference with two clients and came home with four more. Not only are happy clients my best marketing technique, but at these conferences they are surrounded by people with the same pain points they have. I can’t afford NOT to go to these conferences. The opportunity costs are outweighed by the opportunity. So almost immediately after returning from Dallas, I booked my trip to the WBENC conference in June.

At the same time, after tallying up my expenses from the conference I just returned from, I could see how the cost could be daunting, especially when the return on that investment is not guaranteed. When it comes to my clients and other people in my network, the cost benefit analysis is often not as obvious.

So perhaps a better question is not “where do you network?” but “why do you network?” What makes these meetings, events, happy hours, etc. worthwhile and productive? Here are some potential answers, which should feel relevant to you if you are going to spend time and money getting out there.

  1. I enjoy the people. This is probably the most overlooked one but I really think it should come first. In order to truly build a network, you have to spend time building relationships. That’s only going to be authentic if it’s a good fit.
  2. My referral network is there. Once you’ve established that you like a group, you can start to learn about what they do and they learn about you. If you’ve gotten a client (or two) from a specific group or network, that’s a good place to be. I would add that if you’ve been referred from the group, that’s a GREAT place to be. A referral network that understands what you do and who your client is makes productive referrals and saves you the time of being everywhere.
  3. I believe in the mission, vision, and want to support it. Many of the associations and business organizations that have events are non-profit organizations and by being a member, attending a happy hour, or buying a table at a gala, you are supporting them and the impact they make. Chances are other people who are also enthusiastic about that mission and vision will be people that you enjoy (see #1).
  4. I’m prepared. You know who is going to be there, why it’s important, and whom you want to meet. You know it’s going to take a little time and money but a lot of follow up and you’re ready for that. You’ve set aside time on the calendar and have the energy to keep in touch.
  5. My clients are there. I saved the most obvious one for last because most of the time you won’t know. If at least a couple of the other reasons resonate with you then you have a better chance at finding them.

If none of these answers sound right to you, you’re probably not networking in the right place. Yet. That’s OK, just be prepared to switch things up. And look for the events where the weather is good.