In our post, 'Five questions to ask before networking’, we gave some pointers in choosing a networking event: look for events that follow a format you like, address the topics you’re interested in, and have the sort of attendees you’ll want to hang out with.
Of course, that's not always easy! What if you can’t find the type of networking event you want in your area? Increasingly, people are taking the initiative and starting up their own events.
We’ve had comments on our UK Power Part Time Group about people joining local networking groups for those who work from home (particularly good if you're working flexibly or in a part time job). And there’s been plenty of coverage of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book advising women in particular to set up their own Lean In Circles.
But where do you start? A good way to test the water is to set up a new group using Facebook, LinkedIn or MeetUp. Choose a theme or location as the group focus and invite relevant people from your friends list. Email everyone you know who might be interested and ask them to join. People can suffer from ‘group fatigue’ these days so make sure you give them a compelling reason to join.
Once you have a respectable number of members (10-20 is probably enough for a local group), you can kick off with your first networking event. Decide on a format, venue, guest speaker(s) and topic. And send out the invites!
Here are six top tips from people who run their own successful networking events:
1. Find a free venue. We started off in a pub in Soho. They weren’t using the upstairs room first thing in the morning so they were happy to have us in there – the event was free, but they made money from coffee and croissants. The central location meant it was easy for people to pop in on the way to work - Lloyd Davis, Tuttle Club.
2. Keep in touch. Schedule reminders in the run-up to your event. Don't assume everyone will have added it to their calendar. It's also a good opportunity to encourage talking points and showcase new sign-ups or speakers. We use Eventbrite, but Facebook and MeetUp are also good sites to help you manage and market your event - Sam Michel, Chinwag.
3. Get people connected beforehand via Twitter. If they aren’t already on Twitter, help them set up an account. Then introduce people in person on the night. This extra effort helps people break the ice faster at the event and the love comes back in acres! Bernie Mitchell, TAGtribe
4. Have a greeter. When an apprehensive guest shuffles through the door and sees a smiling face and out-reaching hand it instantly puts them at ease. Guests are more likely to open up, have a chat and enjoy themselves. Another task for the greeter is connecting people: take a moment to learn something about each person that comes in. Then if you notice someone is on their own, you can gracefully introduce them to another person they’ll have something in common with - Diana Lowe, Switched On.
5. Give everyone name badges. We use sticky labels as they are cheap and easy! I'm notoriously bad at names and while best practice is to make sure that we remember everyone, if you do a lot of networking, this can be impossible. Name badges are a handy reminder and will help people connect and converse. If people prefer, they can write their Twitter handle. And I’ve also been to events where the badges have different coloured dots, and people are encouraged to connect with as many different colours as possible – it helps get the room moving! - Julie Hall, Women Unlimited.
6. Smile and adapt. Venues fall through, speakers drop out and things sometimes go wrong, but keeping calm and making sure that you have a contingency plan will see you through - Angie Maguire, Ladies Who Code.
What do you think? Are you inspired to set up your own networking group? Have you already set up a networking event that's worked well? Do you have any tips to add? Whatever your experience, we’d love to hear your stories! Please contact us on Facebook, via Twitter on through our LinkedIn group.