By Bradley Hatchett – Founder of Network My Club

As I take time to reflect on 2022, it is still a little crazy to think it was only in January we were still being impacted by Covid, with the Omicron variant impacting the events world.

However, thankfully, from April onwards as we headed into the Summer, events really came alive in all shapes and sizes.

But 71 events and 4000+ attendees later, there’s been some noticeable trends and evolutions across the B2B networking space.

Here are my observations, along with what I think we’ll see in 2023.

Network Smarter, Not Harder

With more frequent connectivity online, whether at online events, through digital platforms like LinkedIn, or meetings on Zoom/Teams, it’s resulted in a much ‘warmer’ feeling at physical events.

This seems to stem from an increase in conversations starting online and rapport being built before an event, then using the in-person element to be more focussed and purposeful. A big shift compared to pre-pandemic where it was more a case of turning up and seeing who was there.

Teaming up this approach with allowing for the serendipity you get from networking naturally, it’s becoming a nice blend and a smarter way to make your networking work and be more purposeful.

How have I seen this play out in practice at Network My Club?

Members meet at an online event, build rapport and establish a need for further conversation, discuss which in-person event they are going to next, then plan to meet at the event and explore further over a coffee (whilst combining it with networking at the event – meaning a smarter use of their time).

More Than Just Getting New Business

There has been an increased emphasis on the social value networking provides. Not just it being about direct sales.

In particular how it is helping business owners working remotely or running small teams with their mental health, by being around others that are relatable and in the same boat.

Highlighting the value of a network that can be used as an external soundboard for ideas and sharing challenges.

Demonstrated by Terry Bower, Founder of Inside Stories, who, as we were increasing our membership prices earlier this year, said:

“Even if membership went up by £500, it’d still be by far the best networking value I’ve ever experienced in my 30 years of business at all levels. I’m talking in terms of the value of true valued business connections and friendships I’ve made.”

More Selective With Events

The pandemic highlighted the value of everyones time. As a result, I’ve noticed more time-poor business owners putting events through the ‘time v opportunity and value’ formula.

Whilst a number of factors are at play for this decision; event format, organisers, venue, purpose, ticket price, package, etc, it seems to come down to two considerations:

  1. Where do I want to spend my time
  2. And who with

Add to this new way of remote working, and living in a world where we’ve never been more connected in so many ways ways.

Where pre-pandemic it was common for people to attend as many events as possible, now it seems the focus is on quality over quantity.

Something I’m a big advocate for as I believe focusing on fewer events and groups is the way to truly benefit from networking.

As opposed to dipping in and out.

This all highlights the importance of the role we (and other networking organisations) play, and the duty we have to create these events. The ask for someone to leave the office (or home) to come to an event is never one we take for granted.

We feel and relish that responsibility.

I often emphasise to people I meet that delivering high-quality networking events is a key part of what we do. It’s not a side hustle nor we do we have any other agenda.

Therefore, you can be confident that your best interests are being served.

We aren’t alone in that.

The organisation and people behind the events is a good place to start when selecting your networking activity.

In-Person Events Are For People, Not PowerPoints

If people are going networking, they want to spend that time meeting people.

Not watching PowerPoints.

On top of attendees being more selective with where they spend their time, you also have to consider the way people now consume content. With the surge in podcasts, videos and social media, you can listen to most speakers or learn anything online in your own time.

Meaning presentations have to be out of this world and hugely unique to have the desired impact. A rare combination in my experience.

Whilst we haven’t completely removed our speaker slot to give events needed structure, we’ve evolved it based on feedback in terms of how it’s delivered.

Subtle changes we’ve made include being a lot more stringent of content, how long it is for (reducing from 20/25 minutes to 10/15 minutes), and working with our partner clubs and stadiums to source personnel to deliver insight and content you can’t find externally, ensuring it is bespoke to the event/room.

Allowing the core focus to be on the networking time, and attendees having the best chance to meet the right people.

That’s what’s going to keep them coming back.

For those that want external speakers, we reserve these for online events. Where the world is our oyster to source speakers from.

Whilst there are some great events built around speakers, if you’re a networking event organiser and still making your attendees sit through presentations they can get free online, for the time and cost of attending, you’re doing them a disservice.

Online is Still Alive

We saw a steady attendance at online events from our members. And through collaborating with many other networks across the year, based on the uptake from their members, there continues to be a demand and interest.

Not huge growth by any means, but the obvious benefits of cost and time saving are still a consideration.

Plus the ways to make network smarter mentioned above, it provides a place to start conversations and decide to move that into a physical setting or continue online.

Who knows how that will continue in 2023, but I predict much of the same.

2022 was always going to be the big post Covid year of events, with so many returning in all their different forms, so maybe it’ll balance itself out next year.

We’ll certainly be continuing within our blended event schedule.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

The world has evolved an awful lot in the past few years. Networking has been fast forwarded 10/15 years, in terms of methods and ways of networking.

Whilst the principles remain very much the same, what’s been refreshing has been those that “have always done it this way”, have recognised a need to change their methods.

Whether embracing online events, digital platforms like LinkedIn to start conversation, or a shift in the preference of networking formats. With examples of some new members this year shifting from a more formally structured event to a more open and relaxed one.

Much like David Wilshin, who said, “This is networking reimagined, I used to hate it and now I love it!”

P.S. not calling you an old dog, David!

What Do I Expect in 2023?

With trends in the economy, I expect business owners to scrutinise which events they spend their time and budget at even more.

I expect a surge in newly formed businesses. And with that, a big role to play in education around networking.

Business owners start a company and are advised to go out networking to grow. But no one is taught or shown how to do it, where to start or what’s best.

If there’s one thing the last 2-3 years has taught me, is that networking is a skill that can be honed like any other.

Too often I’ve seen new business owners not finding the right events, with the right people for them, picking up bad habits, and ultimately having a negative networking experience overall.

This is something I plan to lean into next year. To improve networking across the board. Watch this space.

As a networking organisation, we have a duty to help make that decision of selecting events as easy as possible.

We’ll continue to do that by delivering events that are valuable, filled with good people and listening to our members and attendees to keep our finger on the pulse on how we can continually improve.

That’s what you can expect from Network My Club.

Bring on 2023.

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