For some people the whole point of networking is to find new customers.

Unfortunately this has given networking a really bad name and many people avoid networking events because they don’t want to be sold to.

And that’s a shame because building a great network is one of the most useful things that anyone in business can do.

Ann Hawkins, founder of Drive the Network is well known for her views that the point of networking is to build a great network and is not about selling, as she explains in this Q&A in the Drive Facebook Group.

Helen Lindop I read so many comments like ‘I hate networking’ in small business Facebook groups, then when they expand on that it turns out they mean the type where people hand you a business card, bore you senseless with what they do, then move on to the next person. Which isn’t networking. Can you explain what GOOD networking is? And that it can actually be fun?

Lenka Koppová Shouldn’t we stop making a bad press for networking and focus more on highlighting all its benefits and share our positive experience from the good groups to ultimate change the perception of networking once and for all? How can we make it more clear to starting freelancers/entrepreneurs that networking in 2019 (and beyond) isn’t the same old networking and that it’s actually lots of fun (and this is coming from an introvert who doesn’t like people much 😂)?

Ann Hawkins Everyone has a different idea of “good” networking. For me it’s so much more than finding out what people do in their business. I want to know if I like someone, if I can trust them, and if they’ll be useful to other people in my network. The last thing I’m thinking about is if I can sell my services to them.  It’s definitely not giving them an elevator pitch (which I don’t have) or “binning” them if they have no need of my services! Even for an introvert, finding people you really like and would like to meet again can be HUGE fun!

Find what you enjoy

Helen Lindop Can you give us your thoughts on the different styles of networking, from the very structured ones where you have to bring in a number of leads every week to the ones where there’s no pressure at all. Is one better than the other or is it more about personality?

Ann Hawkins It’s partly about personality: some people like ritual and knowing exactly what to expect from every meeting, and some businesses do very well from the sort of groups where only one of each type of business is allowed and members have to pass sales leads to each other. However, many small B2B businesses struggle to give ‘real’ leads consistently. The pressure to provide them and the judgement people face in their groups based on the of number and apparent monetary value of leads means people sometimes make them up and that’s a waste of everyone’s time. I also find the thought of meeting exactly the same people week after week and being forced to pass business to people I don’t like or trust, quite bizarre. I believe in recommending someone who is a good fit rather than someone who happens to be “in my group”.

On-line or Face to Face?

Helen Lindop Is face-to-face networking more effective than online?

Ann Hawkins I don’t believe it is. I have great relationships with people I’ve never met face to face and there are people I hate being in the same room with and spend all my time avoiding. It’s much easier to avoid boring people on-line and also to get a more complete view of someone’s character by looking at how they interact with others and what their interests are outside of business.

The other advantage of on-line networking is that while you’re talking to one person, several hundred or even thousands can be observing, learning, and finding out who you are, what you’re like, and how you behave in all sorts of circumstances. Its the most effective way I know of building a reputation among people you’ve never met and don’t even know exist. I’ve got lots of work amd referrals from people all over the world who enjoy the content I share on-line and the way I help people to connect

Helen Lindop I know lots of people are nervous about showing up to networking events for the first time – do you have any tips?

Lenka Koppová With a lot of practice (and I mean a lot), I’ve learnt that it’s ok to join a conversation, come up to a stranger and start a conversation, as well as it’s ok to take some time aside to watch, observe, and take a deep breath before joining in again.

Helen Lindop And in a good group the leader will be looking out for anyone on their own and will introduce them to someone.

Don’t walk into a room full of strangers!

Ann Hawkins These are all great tips! But there’s really no need for anyone to walk into a room full of strangers these days. I’m amazed by people who just pitch up, don’t know what sort of event it is or who anybody is, and sometimes don’t even recognise the speaker – there’s really no excuse for that! Going round the room asking everyone what they do is really bad when a few minutes research beforehand will give you enough information to make a real impact. Imagine walking up to a stranger and saying. “I’ve really been looking forward to meeting you. Your website / Twitter / LinkedIn / Facebook Page looks great!” Or better still, connect with them on-line first so you can have a real conversation when you meet!

Andy Boothman The behaviour some people display at a networking meeting feels like they park their normal self in the carpark and think it’s OK the be this, in your face, sales obsessed, inhuman idiot for the period of the meeting, than get back in their car and resume a ‘normal’ life – its weird.

Ann Hawkins I think that’s partly because some networking organisations “train” people to deliver a 60 second pitch and “work the room” so they literally do put their normal self aside and go in with no curiosity about people except to find out if they’re a prospect, and if they’re not to just ignore them and move on.

Helen Lindop What’s a good way to follow up after, I’m amazed at how few people do this.

Ann Hawkins  Sending a blanket cheesy email that just repeats your elevator pitch or trying to set up a meeting is definitely NOT the way to follow up. That’s kind of why I set up Drive as it is. I don’t believe its ever necessary to go to an event without knowing who you’re going to meet, check them out and have something to say to them when you get there. Same with the follow up. Connecting on line and continuing the conversation like two human beings is easy. I believe every event organiser, especially for paid events, has an obligation to set this up. I’ve been doing this for people who attend my events since 2009. It’s not hard.

Of course it relies on people actually booking and not doing all this last minute “I’ll try to get there” or “I might come” stuff. If you want to get the best out of any event, make a commitment and do your homework before you turn up. You and everyone else will enjoy the conversations more and its much easier to follow up.

Andy Boothman Networking will very rarely have instant results and I believe that’s the major reason a lot of people shy away from it. We live in a world of quick fixes and that doesn’t work in networking. It’s a long game. How long would you tell a networking newbie to attend a group or meeting before making a judgement call on whether the group is for them?

Ann Hawkins I don’t think you need to go to a meeting at all to decide if its the style you like. If you’re a ritual person or intent on making sales, there are tried and tested styles for that. If you’re open minded, curious and want to learn, you’d choose a different style. If a networking group has an active forum or on-line community it adds so much to the networking experience and removes the barriers of geography, or other other things that stop people joining in. You don’t have to be “in the room” to build a great network.

Actually building a trusted network takes a long time. You need to feel comfortable with people, know their values, and how good a fit they’d be with others before recommending them and then get some feedback about their work before you know if they really trustworthy. Building that level of trust takes a long time and consistent action from everybody.

Helen Lindop That’s my frustration when people say, “I’ve never got any clients from networking”. It usually means they’ve showed up to a few events but not done anything beyond that.

Ann Hawkins They’ve also missed the point that although the people in the room may never hire them, if they put in the work and help other people, every one of those people knows at least 150 other people who may become their clients. (Dunbar’s Number)

Networking for Impact

There are two ways to create impact when we’re networking:

We want people to remember us for the right reasons, and although its corny and much used, this Maya Angelou saying sums that up beautifully:

The second aspect of creating impact is in the usefulness of your network to others. If you go out just to find people you can sell to, you’re missing 99% of the reasons for building a network. The value is in the impact it has on others when you introduce people to each other – people who can help or are just fun, and people who know other people and are happy to keep building that extended network. When you become the “go to person” for others to find who they need, that’s the biggest impact of all.

Talking to people with real curiosity about who they are and not just what they do means you can be of most help to both them and the rest of your network.



You can see Ann talking to Martyn Sibley about Networking for Impact on The Martyn Sibley Show.

Read The Art of Subtle Networking 

Find more from Ann at Inspiring Entrepreneurs on Twitter @AnnHawkins on LinkedIn and Facebook