This post was written by Jennifer Taylor. Jennifer Taylor is the owner of Taylor’d Events Group, a planning firm that specializes in celebrations of all kinds in the Pacific Northwest and Maui.
Networking – there’s simply no better way to get your name out amongst industry peers and potential clients. Not only is it a fun experience (can you say cocktail hour?), but it can also be the changing force that helps advance your business to the next level. Even if you have to duck out of the office a bit early or take a long lunch break, attending networking events is certainly worth the time and effort.
However, in some cases, you may attend networking events, but find that you’re not happy with the results. If this sounds like you, consider starting your own networking group as there may be other professionals in your industry feeling just as disappointed in the current offerings. To start a networking group, you simply need to have like-minded people who are looking to work together.
Perhaps the locally-established events aren’t as niche-specified as you’d like or maybe they’re always scheduled at inconvenient times leading to low turnout. Whatever the case is, take all of these considerations into account when building your own networking group. Your experience attending these events is the best form of research, as you’ll have a better idea of what you and others are looking to get out of a night of mixing and mingling.
Step 1: Set goals
As with any big project, you’ll want to start off by setting goals. What does an ideal networking event look like to you? Carefully determine the audience you want to include at your events—are you looking to connect with all local photographers? Do you want to build a cohesive network of wedding professionals who focus solely on luxury events? Your answer to this question will form the foundation of your group, as well as provide a game plan for how to grow and maintain your network.
Step 2: Recruit members
Before inviting your whole Facebook list, you’ll want to carefully sift through your connections and select those who will be of the most value to the networking group and are well known in the region. With a list of invited members in hand, you’ll want to have your first event on the books before hitting the ‘send’ button. When people first hear of your group, they’ll want to know details about the inaugural event; otherwise, they’ll most likely forget about the group. Using an approximate number of attendees, find a venue that can comfortably host the group if everyone were to bring one extra person. From there, start reaching out to promote the event and requesting speakers and sponsors, if necessary. You may also want to consider aligning yourself with local media and area bridal shows for larger exposure.
Step 3: Handle logistics
Consider the regularity and logistics of meetings – will you be meeting monthly? Quarterly? This will determine the level of commitment that members feel towards the group – perhaps some are open to being invested, but can’t make the time each month. Whatever your networking schedule looks like, make sure it is consistent (like the same day every month) and considerate of event professionals’ schedules, taking busy times of year into account. You’ll also want to be sure it’s easy to find on any websites or social media. Facebook is a great tool for keeping everyone organized, as it allows for open discussion, as well as the creation of events within a group.
Step 4: Plan ahead
One of the best practices to instill in your planning is to have the subsequent event planned prior to any meeting, even if it’s just the topic or the date. This allows you to promote the next get-together and ensure that attendees leave excited for what is in store next time. A great way to keep on track is to allocate some time to building a structure with topics that are set for a full year – that way you won’t find yourself in crunch mode when the date nears.
Step 5: Welcome feedback
Last but certainly least, as your networking events grow and more people become members, be sure to listen to what they are saying. Do they love when there’s dinner included? Start schmoozing with caterers and inquire about sponsorship. Are your members dying to check out the new event space in town? Reach out to see if you can book it for the next event. Providing your network with valuable resources and, overall, a fun experience will keep them coming for more. Talk about a win-win situation!