The secret to networking like a pro

Like anything else in business, when it comes to networking events, you only get out what you put in.

The old-style networking event was traditionally based around a men's only service club. The monthly meetings would plan community works and be a chance to swap business cards and make connections.

Fast forward to today and networking events are vastly different.

They take on many different forms from speed networking to lunchbox learning sessions, breakfasts through to cocktail parties.

Some networking groups require membership while others are event companies running a range of breakfasts, brunches and dinners. Usually there is a keynote speaker.

But, if you are a small business operator struggling to make time in your day, are they a worthwhile investment?

Council of Small Business of Australia chief Peter Strong says running a small business, especially a home-based micro-business, can be lonely. But, making the effort to attend an event every so often will not only provide new ideas, but a break from the monotony of working by yourself.

But BNI national director Frederick Marcoux says small business owners attending networking events should not expect miracles.

Marcoux heads the franchise network that has 200 groups meeting around Australia each week for 90 minutes.

“If you want networking to work you need to be prepared to commit to building your network,” he says.

“It is not how many people you know but how well you know them.”

He says his best advice for small business owners who plan to attend a networking event is to expect nothing in return – but be happy to eventually be rewarded with referrals.


He promises building goodwill, or social capital, will be returned many times over.

“Your goal should be to go into those rooms and try to help someone,” he says.

“If you do that regularly you can build a strong network of people.”

“Networking is not a get rich quick thing. This is about farming, not about hunting. It is not about hunting down your next sale. It is about sowing some seed and building a relationship.”

He says there are different formats of networking with BNI offering what he calls “strong contact networking”.

Its meetings are more structured, while other networking events tend to allow more time for people to make their own connections.

“It is horses for courses. It depends on yourself and what you like to do. If you don’t put effort in, you are never going to be good at it,” he says.

But Marcoux says there is still hope for even the most cautious business owner. “One of BNI’s best performers is a businesswoman, who when asked to introduce herself at her first meeting said: ‘I don’t do public speaking’.”

He says over time, and with a bit of effort, she developed the confidence to network and now encourages similarly reticent networkers to make the most out of the events.

Carolyn Tate, founder of the Slow School of Business

Carolyn Tate, the founder of the Slow School of Business, says it’s good idea to actively look for networks and communities that are aligned with your values.

She agrees that small business owners need to go to into events not expecting to clinch a deal.

“Networking is about giving, not going to take something. It’s about being in the right spot at the right time with the right people and asking the right questions.

“Ask what can I do for you, what do you need? Then see if the answer aligns with what you need too,” she says.

“Caring about others, asking good questions and telling good stories are the essentials of connecting and networking with people.”

Making a connection

APPROACH networking events without thinking you need to clinch a deal.

Be open to hearing people’s stories.

FINE tune your elevator pitch so if you are asked what you do you can nail it.

TAKE a long-term view.

PACK enough business cards with you but don’t be desperate.

BE prepared to ask a question if there is an open microphone but don’t monopolise it.

DON’T judge a book by its cover.

DON’T drink too much alcohol if it is on offer.

REMEMBER that you are representing your business so keep it nice.