Networking: To Pay or Not to Pay.

By Josh Keegan - Owner/Director

Networking. We all know about it. We understand the benefits of it. We know it can help us, our businesses or our careers. We know it is better to network than to not. Meeting others can help us work on our pitch - the summary of us describing what we do, our business (if we have one) within a tiny unique time frame of holding the other persons attention, pitched in such a way they are curious to know more and (hopefully lead to more conversations and, work). Networking helps us to develop professionally. For the extrovert, it is something which comes naturally and for the introverts, it can mean terrifying times ahead (or there is personal development needed to help us move beyond our introversion).

Technology, as always, is looking to change the need for personal face-to-face; and not just for networking. It seeks to make it easier to connect with people from all over the world, from every walk of life and every level of management, levelling the playing field for everyone regardless of their own position or status in their own career (I can hear the introverts cheering).

Technology, however lacks the human element - no matter how clever the technology, the human subtleties are missed. The slight nuances of body language are missed (or not replicated...yet); tell-tale signs the experienced networker knows to may lead to work or means leave me alone (at least for now).

So where does this leave us? Physical, personal networking is still required and it is time to get out there and begin to practice our pitch (my sympathies go out to the introverts). 
So how does a networker get out there?  Looking around on the Internet, we can find a number of different networking forums, conferences, seminars, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cocktails, drinks, events in almost every suburb, in every city on the face of the planet. The opportunities are seemingly endless and the possibilities unlimited with networking falling into two distinct categories - fee-based and free.

Here too, at least on the fee-based side, the possibilities are endless. The range of prices can be very little to the extravagantly expensive with the possibility of connecting with the leaders of company’s dependant on the price you are willing to pay. Of course there is no guarantee of connecting with the right people just because you have paid a lot of money, nor is there any guarantee of any return on your monetary investment.  Similarly, there may be no return on your investment of effort, especially if you are just perfecting your pitch or if you are trying to overcome your introversion.

Free networking events, on the other hand, have a tendency to not have the same prestige, where there is a large perception of free meaning low or no quality. Similarly, attending free events are also a rather hit-or-miss affair when attempting to connect to leaders. Many events, both free and paid, can have a tendency to be self-serving where your attendance and membership is welcome, but the agenda is hidden only to reveal itself at a later stage. Many events are nothing more than platforms, only assisting the person or company organising it, rather than helping the individual as a networker. 

How do you navigate different networking events to find one which works for you?  There is no easy answer to this as it is up to the individual. Of the people I have talked to over time, from the new starter to the seasoned professional; from the introvert to the extravert, many have espoused the benefits of the high cost event, telling me how it has boosted their own career/company. At the same time, I have had others relate me the same story for the free events.   (The caveat with the free event however, is the ability to perfect your pitch without embarrassing yourself in front of someone important.)

Like always, I have noted a common thread amongst all of the feedback I have received: you have to be comfortable with the event you select and, most importantly, it takes some time to find the event which is right for you. Translation: the event you are comfortable with may not provide you with the right connections for your career or your business. 
What do you do about it?  Again, talking with contacts, I have found the thread common amongst all of the conversations: select those events which are sponsored, have affordable prices, don't have an underlying hidden agenda and let you connect with leaders and executives allowing you to further your career or business. 

Sounds impossible?  Not necessarily. I know of a few here in Brisbane which do exactly what I described above run by exceptionally talented people.

Ric Nilson is one such individual. Ric is a highly respected, senior leader in the market who runs a monthly event for free. No hidden agenda and all are run to let professionals from all walks of life meet, connect and do business.  A number of executives and leaders frequent these events and the possibility of just chatting to one over a beer is a very high possibility.

Brendan Goleby is another such individual. Brendan runs the Toowoomba Queensland Community LinkedIn group, again on a monthly basis and free. TQC events are sponsored (by local businesses) and they are run under the banner of allowing professionals to meet and connect. Brendan also runs a number of other groups in regional areas under the same guise as TQC.  Again, a number of professionals attend these events and recently, the Chairman of Wagners Global was the keynote speaker.

Then there's me. I run the Brisbane Queensland Community LinkedIn group as the Brisbane extension of those run by Brendan. I attended a few events hosted by Brendan and was so impressed with the model I took it upon myself and started the Brisbane chapter. 

There you have it. It is possible to network without agendas, which don’t cost any money and I have had the opportunity to be a part of three just in the South-East of Queensland. 

If you run an event or know of an event, which is run without agendas with no or a low cost similar to those I have described above, please let me know in the comments section below.