No matter what type of business you run, it is important to keep up with current information, new technologies or ideas, and emerging trends. While online sources of information help, it’s well worth attending events in person.
Attending an event provides two important advantages over simply researching online.
First, you may learn important information through stories and case studies presented in a live event that don’t make it online. You also have the advantage of interacting with the presenters to ask questions, share your own experiences, and hear the experiences of other participants. These nuggets or ‘ah ha’ moments you may glean from a live event may not “hit” you the same way if you are reading about them on a screen.
Second, you meet new people and get re-acquainted with your existing contacts. This is vital in any business. People like to do business with people they know; if you don’t get to know people, you could be missing out on a lot of opportunities.
Attending different kinds of networking events will serve different purpose. A careful selection of where you spend your networking event time will help you to build a network that is both broad and deep.
I suggest attending events from these 3 categories:
The benefits of attending networking events within your industry are probably obvious. You will learn about a topic that is directly related to your business, and you will meet other people who work within your industry. This will be good for keeping up with the advances in your industry, get to know your competition and meet potential suppliers and partners.
When you attend a general business networking event, you will meet people from a variety of businesses. The topics you learn about at general events may relate to your business in a wider sense. This is important as you can gain an understanding of how your industry fits into broader business trends. These events will be good for developing a broader understanding of business, meeting potential clients and collaborators.
By attending an event well outside your industry, you meet people who work and move in completely different circles than you. You shake up your understanding of what is possible and you are exposed to fresh new ideas and concepts. You can’t help but meet and learn from people who are in a totally different area. Attending these kinds of events can really help keep your ideas fresh and your mind growing. The people you meet may refer you business or become clients themselves.
To find networking events within your industry, think about the industry associations that you know of. These may be your hub for information about upcoming events and the general happenings within your area of work. They will likely have a variety of conferences, breakfast meetings, after work seminars, and other networking events, at a range of prices.
For example, my industry is marketing, so I keep up to date with events hosted by the Canadian Marketing Association, the American Marketing Association – Toronto Chapter, and the Canadian Association of Marketing Professionals.
You might also have some specific fields within your industry that you focus on. One of my specifics is technology. I look for events around the accelerators and tech hubs. Since I am in Toronto this means Communitech, Ryerson Digital Media Zone, MaRS and Girls in Tech to name a few.
To find general business networking events, consider connecting with your local Chamber of Commerce, The Toronto Board of Trade, The Canadian Club or Rotman Events. There are also network referral clubs such as BNI (Business Network International) that have chapters across North America. They often have open guest nights where you can learn what this type of business networking club is all about. I encourage you to go to the open guest nights. You’ll meet business owners from a wide variety of businesses.
To find networking events completely outside of your industry, I highly recommend attending a local TED event. I have met so many different people from different businesses and it has been a good way to expand my thinking and education about the arts, political, healthcare and non-profit areas.
There are many networking groups for women. Some examples are Women’s Executive Network, GroYourBiz, Canadian Association of Women Entrepreneurs and Executives, Company of Women, and Positive Fabulous Women.
When you’re at an event, ask fellow participants what other events or networking groups they like. You’re sure to pick up tips and information about helpful events that you wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.
When looking for events to attend, remember that it’s not all about what you can learn from the presenters or the other participants at the event. Also think about how you might teach someone else about a topic that will be discussed at the event. Sharing your experiences and your talents with others is a great way to contribute to the people in your network. People appreciate that – just think about how you appreciate learning a tip from someone else.
You can often attend the events even if you are not a member of the organization. It may cost a little more and you may be encouraged to join, but attending a few times as a guest or non-member will allow you to get a feel for the club without a commitment right away.
When searching for networking events, the key is to keep an open mind. I was working with a client to find his ideal networking events and we looked at the Canadian Club website. At first we both thought that it might be too focused on politics. After a few minutes on their site, it became obvious that our initial assumptions were wrong. We were surprised to find an event that focused on mining – his industry. If we hadn’t kept searching, he would have missed the opportunity to sign up for that event.
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Make the time to get out there and network!
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Here is a list with links to all of the networking events mentioned in this article.