The meetings are full of sharks?

I follow a blog on ‘Millo‘ because they have some interesting articles, and the latest one was no exception but it attracted my attention for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. You can read the post and my response here, but read on to find out my answers to the arguments it made…

Not my experience…

Essentially the article’s author, David Tendrich, has some preconceptions regarding networking meetings that I don’t agree with. Obviously not all networking meetings are the same and they aren’t for everyone, but as someone who enjoys them and generates over 90% of his business through referrals generally (and nearly 80% from networking groups) I am a big fan and the broad-brush descriptions of networkers didn’t work for me. David is perfectly entitled to his opinion and has obviously had a poor experience of network meetings, but I thought I would proffer an alternative viewpoint. I did comment on his post directly, but there wasn’t really the space to expand on most of the points, so here is the breakdown of the assumptions and my challenges to them…

The blog: “The new approach to networking that actually gets clients”

David starts: “I have to be honest: I h-a-t-e networking meetings. I would gladly endure a few teeth pullings in place of them, any day of the week. It’s not just because I’m terribly socially anxious, either. It’s because I can’t stand the mindsets of the people who typically go. What do I mean? I’m sure you’ve seen it too…”

That got me intrigued. He continues…

“…These meetings are full of sharks only looking out for themselves. They simply want to turn you into their client, and if they can’t do that, then they want to use you to get some…”

Woah there, back up a second! FULL of sharks? Yes there are those that come to ‘sell’ at networking meetings and invariably there is a section in which you can introduce yourself but the majority of the time it is about building relationships and most people understand this. Certainly all networking groups are different and some will encourage more negative behaviours than others, but in the main they certainly aren’t FULL of sharks in my experience.

“…They offer you nothing for you referring people their way, except for the hollow promise that they’ll refer you, too. But how many freelancers of your sort do they already know? How many have they already promised this to? Why would they suddenly move you to the top of the list?…”

Absolutely correct, they are unlikely to refer you just after meeting you, but then the same is true in reverse. That is why you need to attend regularly and build up rapport, it’s no different from any other community in that respect. People generally start to refer you after a particular sequence of things have happened, which was explained to me by Les Larkins from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) before I attended my first event. :

  1. They get to know you
  2. They get to like you
  3. They begin to trust you

If the sequence is completed, it is in that order. But it might not happen at all, afterall they might get to know you and not actually like you. Or they might know and like you but not trust you to complete work to their satisfaction.

In answer to the question about how many other options they have for suppliers such as you, well yes they might have lots. But this isn’t about working with the people in the room it’s about making yourself credible and available to be referred to the people they know outside of the group. Why do you need to be ‘top of the list’, it might be that they are able to share the work with you and their other suppliers, why do you need to be greedy and assume you should be their sole supplier?

“…And vise versa for them – why would you ever refer someone business when you have no idea of their skill level or caliber?…”

Clearly you wouldn’t, but that’s the whole point. The sequence of ‘Know’, ‘Like’ and ‘Trust’ works the other way around as well, and you’ll only go through this sequence by becoming part of the group and doing the first one first, i.e getting to know them.

“…It’s a broken system. Yet people show up to meeting after meeting because they’re scared they’ll miss out on an opportunity that just might be there…”

That’s only true if you think that every meeting is an opportunity to sell. If you go with the intention of joining in and contributing to the group perhaps by offering advice or referrals etc, then you won’t have such a narrow view of a ‘successful meeting’.

“…I used to do it, too, when times were tough, because I, too, was scared…”

There’s a clue here: ‘When times were tough”. If you only turn up when you want work then you aren’t contributing to the community effectively. Imagine if everyone else did that – that would be a ‘broken’ system that was doomed to fail.

The post continues and actually touches upon some of the ideas that do make networking work: i.e have a plan and be proactive in developing referral relationships, which is absolutely correct, but I think they are referenced in a rather cynical way and one which is about simply gaining referrals rather than contributing any. I regularly network with Jacky Sherman of The Referral Institute and she has lots of great advice that can help you get more from your networking in the right way, i.e without becoming a ‘shark’.

Interestingly  towards the end of the blog David says:

“…Honestly, this is how networking meetings should actually run: People should trade services with each other with the idea that if they’re impressed with you, and you with them, you’ll gladly refer business either way.”

Well, that IS how networking meetings (certainly the good ones) do work! I can only assume the one(s) David attended were bad or didn’t suit him, and I would encourage him to give other groups a go – you never know he might enjoy it…

The groups I attend regularly are NN coNNect, a local group aimed at networking and business development, and ones hosted by the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), a national body which has powerful lobbying rights with the British Government, but there are a wealth of options out there to suit a wide range of tastes. It’s just a case of finding the one(s) that suit you – I just suggest that you go with an open mind, you never know you might just like it!

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