Social media, print advertisements, sponsorship’s, digital marketing…the list of marketing vehicles goes on and on. But there is one thing that I never thought about when I was creating Cool Bus Houston. One thing that is pretty valuable, but can also be very time consuming depending on how involved you want to get…I am talking about the activity of Networking.
I never knew of how big of a world networking was until I started attending various networking groups. You could literally spend all day attending networking events and never accomplish any actual items on your “To-Do” list. There are breakfast meetings, mid-morning meetings, lunch meetings, happy hours and evening events.
I would say that on average, I spend 5-10 hours networking each week through 2-4 events…mostly in the morning or around lunch time. I find that the morning events are pretty nice because they kind of jump start your day! So if you happen to work from home or are in a sales position, the morning networking events help you get moving before the sun comes up, which usually lead to more productive days. Plus, you can always get a couple cups of coffee at each breakfast!
I regularly attend events through the Texas A&M University Houston-area network as well as the Houston West Chamber of Commerce, where I have become a member. I also try and visit other Chambers of Commerce around the city to see what they have to offer in terms of not only their member network, but events as well. There are also groups called BNI (Business Networking International) which are all over, but they only allow one seat per industry. For instance, there can only be one business coach or one financial planner at each BNI group. But the good thing is that you can visit each BNI group up to two times before they ask that you make a financial commitment by way of membership. So you can see which one fits your business best.
Some events are free (which is great!) but I would say most breakfasts and lunches come with a cost – usually in the $15 – $40 range.
Lunches are hit and miss sometimes. They will usually last from 11:30am – 1pm with open networking (talk to anyone and everyone) for the first 30 minutes and the actual program or speaker starting at noon. Depending on the size of the lunch, there might be an opportunity to stand up and give your 30 second commercial about who you are and what you do. During this time, make sure you pay attention to who else is in the room. So if there is a particular contact you would like to connect with, you can approach them after lunch and strike up a conversation and exchange business cards.
If you don’t arrive early for the open networking, then all you have to rely on for networking is whom you sit next to at your table. So if you don’t sit next to someone that you could each benefit from, you might look at it as a waste of your lunch hour.
But the crazy thing is that you never know who THEY know. So while this lawyer or financial planner might not have an immediate need for Cool Bus Houston at that moment, his or her best friend might be getting married and needs a party bus for their bachelor or bachelorette party or the actual wedding day!
So my best advice for networking events…arrive early to visit with different people, Keep an open mind when starting up conversations, Bring A LOT of business cards and if you don’t already, take up an affinity for coffee!