I am sure you have heard the saying, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know” right?
While this is not always the case, it is definitely worth noting that, in business, success has a lot to do with who you know.
Putting your valuable energy into fostering relationships and nurturing partnerships will help you to grow your customer base.
So, in the following article, we will delve into the 7 best small business networking events that will put you in front of the right people so you can generate more leads and clients in your business.
Is networking the best way to get leads and grow my business?
While networking is undoubtedly a valuable tool for growing your business, digital marketing offers more opportunities to efficiently generate exclusive leads in greater numbers.
By implementing the right digital marketing campaign, you will be able to target the right audience and tap into a wealth of warm leads that want to work with you whereas, with a networking event, you are required to put in a lot of energy for results that may not always end in your favor.
To learn more about how you can use digital marketing, click here.
We recommend you use a combination of networking AND digital marketing! Successful lead generation needs a multi-faceted game plan.
Focusing on networking in conjunction with the right digital lead generation plan can help you generate high-quality leads; here are the best networking events to consider:
- Your Local Chamber Of Commerce
- Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
- Business Networking International (BNI)
- Network After Work
For more on the right digital marketing approach, click here.
What are the best networking events for small businesses?
1. Your Local Chamber of Commerce
This is a great place to start; your local chamber of commerce is a valuable way to start building relationships within your community.
Often, many chambers of commerce bring in guest speakers and provide mentoring at relatively low prices that make them ideal for small businesses, particularly for those new to the networking side of the business.
It is worth noting; however, the quality of these services seems to depend on where you are located.
- Local chambers of commerce provide foundational training, professional development, and resources for small business owners.
- They offer valuable networking opportunities to build relationships within your community.
- Many chambers offer guest speakers and affordable mentoring programs for new business owners.
- The quality and involvement of chambers of commerce can vary from city to city.
- Some chambers may not offer as many resources or networking opportunities as others.
2. Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a unique peer-to-peer network exclusively for entrepreneurs. With a global community of over 15,600 business owners.
Through mentor relationships, online networks, and global networking events, EO provides a supportive community where entrepreneurs can connect with like-minded individuals and gain valuable insights into growing their businesses.
- EO is a peer-to-peer network exclusively for entrepreneurs.
- It offers a supportive community of over 15,600 business owners around the world.
- EO provides a variety of programs, including mentor relationships and global networking events.
- Entrepreneurs can share knowledge and build their business networks through EO’s programs.
- Membership fees may be costly for some entrepreneurs.
- EO may not be accessible or relevant to entrepreneurs in certain industries or geographic locations.
- The quality of mentor relationships and online networks may vary depending on the individual’s experience and needs.
TIP: you can also create an educational space using social media (e.g Facebook Pages) to help you generate exclusive leads online, click here for more.
3. Business Networking International (BNI)
If your primary goal in business networking is to gain a large volume of referrals, Business Networking International (BNI) is a must.
With over 286,000 members and 10,600 chapters worldwide, BNI is the world’s leading business referral organization, hands down.
In the early days of my business, I was a member of many BNI groups, and it did help me win plenty of new clients. However, not all BNI groups are the same. Some are better than others, so I recommend visiting multiple BNI chapters to find the right one for you.
Unlike other networking organizations that focus on community building, BNI takes a more transactional approach to sharing contacts. Members are encouraged to refer business to one another, with the understanding that they will receive referrals in return.
- BNI is the world’s leading business referral organization.
- Members have access to a large network of over 286,000 business owners around the world.
- BNI’s transactional approach to sharing contacts may be beneficial for those looking to gain a large volume of referrals.
- BNI membership fees can be expensive for some entrepreneurs.
- Members are expected to refer business to one another, which may not be appropriate for all industries or individuals.
- The quality of referrals may vary depending on the individual’s experience and needs.
If your business is focused on selling on social media, however, community building is actually essential. When selling socially, conjuring a community that is focused on your niche can generate high-quality leads organically.
4. Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)
If you are under the age of 40, YEC may just be the networking event for you.
What separates YEC from other networking events is its focus on providing a fast-paced and heavily digital networking experience for millennial business owners. This includes access to a private online community, virtual events, and concierge services for personalized introductions and networking opportunities.
The caveat? It works on an invitation-only basis.
- Provides exclusive networking opportunities for entrepreneurs under the age of 40
- Focuses on a fast-paced and heavily digital networking experience
- Offers access to professional development resources such as mentorship programs and industry experts
- Has a high-quality network of members due to its invitation-only model
- Only available for entrepreneurs under the age of 40
- Requires an invitation to join, making it harder to access compared to other networking events
- May not be the best fit for those who prefer in-person networking events over virtual ones
Being a millennial usually means you are a natural with digital technology; however selling digitally requires a bit more than a natural sense of digital orientation – see this video for more.
5. Network After Work
If you’re looking to build lasting relationships and advance your business or career, Network After Work is another networking event to consider. Especially given its hybrid digital/In-person model.
This professional community of entrepreneurs and business professionals offers a range of virtual and in-person networking events, as well as online profiles and member search functionality to help you connect with others in your field or location.
With live events available in 87 locations across the United States, Network After Work provides you with an alternative to BNI if you are not a fan of their transactional focus.
- Offers a range of virtual and in-person networking events
- Provides online profiles and member search functionality for easy networking
- Hosts live events in 87 locations across the United States
- Provides opportunities to connect with other entrepreneurs and business professionals in your field or location
- May require membership fees or ticket purchases to attend certain events
- Quality of events and connections may vary by location
- Virtual events may not provide the same level of connection as in-person events for some people.
6. Linkedin Groups
LinkedIn is more than just an online resume. It’s a powerful tool for networking, connecting with others in your field and community. By joining LinkedIn groups based on business interests and location, you can expand your reach and make valuable connections.
In fact, some of these groups exist solely for the purpose of networking across all industries within a region. This opens up opportunities to attend public events and meet people face-to-face.
- LinkedIn provides a platform to create a comprehensive profile to promote yourself and your business.
- Joining LinkedIn groups can help you connect with others in your industry and community.
- Some LinkedIn groups exist solely for networking across industries and regions, with public events for face-to-face connections.
- Like any social media platform, it can be time-consuming to create and maintain a strong profile and engage with others.
- Some LinkedIn groups may have low activity or limited relevance to your business interests.
- Connecting with others solely through LinkedIn may lack the personal touch of in-person networking.
7. Social Calendars
As a small business owner, knowing the best networking events is vital to staying ahead and ensuring that your small business has the best chance of meeting the right people.
One way that you can keep your finger on the pulse here is by taking advantage of social calendars such as Meetup and Eventbrite; using information based on your interest and location, these platforms suggest events to you.
- Meetup and Eventbrite provide a wide range of networking events based on interests and location.
- These platforms can help small business owners discover new and niche events that they may not have known about otherwise.
- The events are typically well-organized, with clear information provided about the schedule and speakers.
- The quality of events and attendees may vary widely.
- Some events may be poorly organized or may not attract the right audience.
- It can be challenging to determine which events are worth attending, as the sheer volume of events listed can be overwhelming.
What are some ways I can succeed at a networking event?
Succeeding at a networking event depends on a few factors, and knowing how to prepare for virtual networking events is just as important as preparing for in-person networking events.
Here are some tips for preparing:
- Set goals: Before attending the event, set some goals for what you want to achieve. This could be anything from meeting five new people to learning about a specific industry or company.
- Dress appropriately: Make sure you dress appropriately for the event. This means dressing professionally and in line with the dress code, if there is one.
- Bring business cards: Bring plenty of business cards to hand out to people you meet. Ensure they include your contact information and a brief description of what you do.
- Be approachable: Smile, make eye contact, and be open to starting conversations with people. Don’t be afraid to approach someone you don’t know and introduce yourself.
- Listen more than you talk: When talking to someone, listen to what they’re saying. Ask questions to show that you’re interested in what they have to say.
- Follow up: After the event, follow up with people you met by sending an email or connecting with them on LinkedIn. This helps to maintain the relationship and shows that you’re interested in staying in touch.
- Have a strategy: If you’re attending a large networking event, having a strategy in place is a good idea. Identify the people or companies you want to meet and make a plan to connect with them.
The right networking events can be fruitful for a small business looking to expand its customer base and industry knowledge.
As shown above, not all networking events are the same, and the right networking event for you will depend on your industry, desired outcome, and preferred way of building relationships.
However, to reiterate, you must incorporate a multifaceted high-quality lead-generation approach that ventures beyond relying on networking as your primary source of referrals – be sure to watch my free masterclass training, where I show you how.
What are 4 examples of business networking events?
Business networking events can work in a few different ways; here are the main four types of business network groups:
- Industry Conferences and Trade Shows: Industry conferences and trade shows provide an opportunity for business professionals to connect and network with others in their field. These events often feature keynote speakers, workshops, and exhibitions of new products and services.
- Chamber of Commerce Events: Many cities and towns have a local chamber of commerce that hosts regular networking events for its members. These events may include breakfasts, luncheons, and after-work mixers where business professionals can connect and build relationships.
- Business Association Meetings: Business associations, such as the National Association of Women Business Owners or the Young Entrepreneurs Council, host regular meetings and events that allow members to network with one another. These groups may also offer resources and support for business growth and development.
- Meetups and Social Networking Groups: Online platforms such as Meetup and LinkedIn offer groups and events focused on business networking. These events may be organized around specific industries or interests and can provide a casual setting for professionals to connect and exchange ideas.
Is business networking all done in-person?
While in-person networking events are a traditional way to meet and connect with other professionals, the rise of technology has given rise to new opportunities for business networking.
With the advent of social media and professional networking platforms like LinkedIn, it’s now possible to build a strong network online without ever meeting someone face-to-face.
That being said, in-person networking events still play an important role in building lasting relationships. When meeting someone in person, you can establish a more personal connection and better understand their personality and communication style. It’s also an excellent opportunity to showcase your own personality, expertise, and business goals in a more natural setting.
The most successful business networks are built through a combination of online and in-person interactions, so it’s important to find a balance that works for you.
Do I need to be good at public speaking for business networking?
No, public speaking is not necessary for successful business networking.
Building relationships and connecting with other professionals can be accomplished through various communication methods, such as one-on-one conversations, small group discussions, or online interactions.
While being a skilled public speaker can be helpful, it’s not a requirement for building a strong and effective business network. The key is to communicate effectively and establish meaningful relationships with others, regardless of the specific mode of communication.
Is speaking at networking events good for business?
With a well-prepared talk about something you’re already confident and passionate about, you will inevitably look and even feel like an expert in your industry.
It’s also hard not to think of someone headlining a speaker event as someone who’s not an authority. People will automatically assume you must have made your mark in your profession to have qualified as a “speaker”!
Does speaking at networking events build trust in your brand?
One of the things you can do when giving a talk is to educate and show people how to do something they don’t already know.
This is a great way to build up trust with those in your audience, and it proves to them that you are an expert and really can do the things you say you can.
Don’t be afraid of giving too much away.
In fact, give people the best and most valuable information you can. Most people don’t actually want to do it themselves. They want to see that you know what you are talking about and then chances are they will higher you to do it anyway.
This brings us neatly on to the third point….
Can speaking at networking events help you win new clients?
As you position yourself as an expert and build trust with people in what you do, you will start to win over potential clients. This happens in two main ways:
1) People who heard about you for the first time become a lead and ask more about your services
2) A lead who has heard about you before but doesn’t yet trust you enough to buy from you will convert from a lead to an actual sale
Can networking events help you build new business relationships?
If you were a key speaker at a networking event, what would you do? I know I’d invite existing clients and ask them to bring along a friend or business contact.
Because it’s a great way to reinforce and grow your relationships with your clients so they’ll stay with you longer. And who knows – maybe your client, their friend, or yourself will get new business from this thoughtful gesture!
Can business networking events help you grow social media followers?
You can use events you speak at to generate leads and invite those in your audience to join in. You can also further connect with those who attend the event by having them interact with you on social media and share what they are listening to.
For example, when we speak at events (online or face-to-face), we always encourage our guests to share what they are listening to on social media and tag us in the posts. It’s a great way to build up more visibility for our brand!
Should I speak at business networking events?
Now you know that speaking at a business event is seriously worth considering, you might already be imagining what you could be talking about.
To this, I have to say: Focus on giving value, not a sales pitch.
People at an event will come to see you because they want to learn from you. Appearing that everything you say is an attempt to sell your products will make the audience distrust your statements.
On the contrary, genuinely wanting to share valuable content will create a lasting impression on the audience. If they’re going to buy from you, you can trust they will come to you. All you need to do is to give your contact details or call to action at the end of the talk.
In other words, positioning yourself as an authority with tools or valuable ideas to share will make others aware you’re their hero if they let you be. That in itself is the best way to sell.
In the webinar, you will see first-hand how we use events to provide as much value as possible to our audience while at the same time building a stronger brand for ourselves.
Ashley Davis (or ‘Ash’ for short) is the CEO & Founder of Skyline Social. For over 15 years, he has been helping business owners with lead generation. Ash specializes in helping businesses get high-quality leads, appointments and clients each month in an automated, scalable and profitable way. You can watch his free Masterclass training to learn more.