By Bradley Hatchett – Founder of Network My Club

81% of businesses will combine physical and virtual networking. That’s according to 150+ business owners from our 2020 annual member survey.

Imagine a world with more opportunity. Less time wasted. Better return on your time and investment. This can be a reality with your networking.

Network My Club’s mission has always been to bring networking into the 21st century. Perhaps the pandemic has propelled the evolution of networking?

We can’t predict everyone’s future networking behaviours. But one thing is for sure – networking has always been a long-term strategy. It still is. But are there now ways to make it more efficient? And more effective?

With the rise in virtual networking events, there’s been an adoption of technology. With that came an openness to change methods. We have adapted and keep innovating our virtual events to accommodate this. 

There are new options out there. Virtual events and physical events will be fighting for your time.

Effective networkers will embrace both forms. Using one to compliment the other, depending on their personal preference.

Combining both will mean more opportunity, less wasted time, better return from your networking and building a broader, more robust and diverse network.

Let’s dive into how that can be done.

Less time, less money, more efficiency

Whether it’s commuting or travelling to and from events or meetings. The pandemic has made people realise how much time (and money) they were wasting. Putting a more significant value on how and where they spend it.

The same applies with networking. People have identified inefficiencies in their previous methods. 

With more choice across different forms (virtual and physical), businesses will be more selective with which events they attend. Ultimately, where and how they spend their time. 

Can that 4 or 5 hours spent travelling to/from and attending that physical event be better spent at a 2 hour virtual event? Will it be more effective to attend that physical event to meet those people in person rather than virtually?

How do I see this playing out in the wider networking process? 

Virtual events will play a big part in meeting new people for the first time. Or to keep interacting with connections regularly, without the need to spend time travelling to events. 

With physical events to compliment that. Building relationships, trust and familiarity. Making relationships more human and real.

The impact of shaking a hand or sharing a joke or story over a drink will not die out. It’s in human nature to have that interaction.

But the need to go to an event you’ve never been to before, where you don’t know anyone, just to meet new people, will be reduced. This can be done equally as effectively online.

Organisers should be factoring this in too. By putting together a live and virtual event schedule. We certainly will be at Network My Club.

Interestingly, we’re learning lessons from our virtual events we can implement at our physical events.

We’re creating environments at our virtual events to make networking online more efficient. For example, including specific one to one areas. These are private tables of two where people can have conversations during the event. Members are arranging what would’ve been their post-event follow up during the event. Or taking 5/10 minutes during the event to establish the need for a follow up conversation. 

Your follow up process can incorporate this blended approach to attending events too.

For example, during a virtual event, you may set up to meet someone at an upcoming physical event. Or during a physical event, you may arrange to follow up over a video call or inviting them to a virtual event.

This adoption of different forms of networking and adapting your approach can make your relationship building more efficient. As it can when wanting to grow your network geographically…

Explore new regions with reduced risk

Pre-pandemic, building your network in other regions and territories meant a lot of hours wasted travelling to events. A lot of time spent at events in that particular area that ended up being ‘hit or miss’.

Effective networkers can avoid that.

Now, meeting new people in new regions can be achieved online.

How do I see the process working? Introductions and initial conversations can be done by visiting an online networking event in that new area. 

You establish that connection, introduction and start the relationship. Then compliment it with live events. Live events where you know you’ve established it to be a good fit to attend, already made contact and got face time virtually with others.

You reduce the risk of wasting time and money travelling to an event. 

The results?

  • Time and cost saved
  • Better qualified events best suited to your business
  • Improved conversations having already started that online
  • An expanded network
  • More referrals and new business. 

We expect to see this at Network My Club. 

For example, attending an event in London for our members in Sussex meant the best part of a whole day out of the office. Now they can meet members in different regions at our online meetups, then select live events to attend to build on those relationships and conversations. 

The difference now is they can do that knowing people in the room before they attend or having already arranged meeting another member at a previous online meetup. 

As we expand into new regions, members can continue to grow their network with less risk without spending time and money attending, whilst balancing attending events with a more remote way of working.

But this means adopting new methods virtually the right way.

Be a networking chameleon

A member of Network My Club objected to the idea online networking worked. I asked what kind of events they’d attended (and on what platform), what process they follow and how they’ve adapted their methods to network virtually.

With a little advice and suggestion in a change of methods, they’re now converted. Prepared to be an effective networker of the future.

The principles of networking in-person and online are the same. But the behaviours, best practices and etiquette are somewhat different. 

Therefore, effective networkers will be agile. They’ll be able to adapt from live events to virtual (and vice versa). To also operate and use different virtual event platforms. Whether that be an event on Zoom or Remo for example.

Agility and adaptability will be rewarded. Not just in opportunity you unearth and the diverse amount of people you’ll meet, it also sends a great message about you and your business.

Increase reach and opportunity

In our 2020 member survey, 81% said they will include virtual AND physical events in their networking activity. 6% said they will be going only to virtual events. 7% said they will go back to solely in-person.

In summary? The opportunity for you will be online and in-person. There won’t be a return to ‘normal’. So you’ll need to embrace it. 

If you aren’t, your competitors most certainly will be. 

More inclusive and diverse network

Online networking is more inclusive. It’s opened the world of networking up to groups of people who previously couldn’t or didn’t want to attend live events. We’ve now got members meeting each other that never would have if it hadn’t been for online.

This has enriched their networks with a more diverse range of people. As a result, this’ll no doubt lead to a more diverse client base, supply chain, workforce and other areas of their business in the future.

Some people dread walking into a room of people. Some feel the same with virtual events. But there’ll now be a world to network in where everyone can participate more comfortably and naturally. 

As the agile and adaptable networker you are, you’ll now further enrich your network with a diverse mix of connections you can help and who can help you.

What’s to come?

Live events will come back in a big way. Confidence to attend will grow. But virtual events will remain. 

I wonder what response I would’ve got a year ago if I’d suggested a virtual networking event. I’m sure I would’ve been laughed at or politely told it would never take off. But, here we are, and it’s those people I thought would’ve said it wouldn’t work that are most active at our virtual events.

For those waiting for ‘normal’ to return, you could find yourself in a different world to what you consider normal. Maybe you will get back to what you were doing before. But I can guarantee your counterparts and competition have moved with the times, putting themselves where the opportunity is. 

Predicting customer behaviours is the exciting challenge for organisations like us. Refining and recreating our offering for businesses to network in a method that is effective, efficient and inclusive.

We have a responsibility and added pressure to make any event, whether virtual or physical, as valuable, time worthy and productive for all as possible.

It’s not a case of ‘going back’ to how things were, it’s a case of going forward to the future of networking and embracing it.

That’s what we’ll be doing at Network My Club and I invite you to join us.

Bring it on. 

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