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Webbed Feet UK, web developers in Salisbury, Wiltshire

Has business networking died?

Until recently I have been an avid networker, and it has been a great way of building long term relationships and increasing awareness of my company.

Recently however, a large proportion of groups seem to be struggling, and I’m finding it hard to ascertain why.

Although some of the groups I attend (both small and large) are still a success it seems that many, and dare I say the majority, are struggling. Many of the groups’ representatives seem to dismiss these claims, but the consensus at a member or visitor level, for people like you and I, is that they are not all working.

Many groups are finding it difficult to attract visitors, and possibly because of this have a decreasing member base. I am also finding that once-thriving business meetings are turning in to more social events and a chat over breakfast.

Without naming specific organisations, I know of a national networking chain that, from the local ground level at least, seems to have groups ‘dropping like flies’, and other localised groups that have decreased in numbers to what appears to be 25%. It really is sad visiting a group and seeing empty tables, and I wonder what new visitors must think.

So what do I think is wrong? I wish I knew the precise answer as to why numbers are decreasing, but from what I can see it seems to be amplified by loss of critical mass, let me explain…

When a group is busy it maintains itself; each meeting has a ‘buzz’ about it, people enjoy it, people pass work, and because of this people invite visitors. Visitors attend and enjoy it, and eagerly sign up. This keeps members’ attendance high. But, as soon as numbers start dropping, for whatever reason, the critical mass of a busy group goes, the ‘buzz’ disappears, visitors stop signing up, so members attend less, which makes the numbers low. This is a downward spiral that is hard to stop.

I believe that this loss in critical mass started due to the sudden increase of networking groups as a whole, and once each group has fewer members, they start to struggle. Of course some will survive, as with most things in life, but it really does become ‘survival of the fittest’.

I also believe that once a group has low numbers, the only way to revitalise it is to have a complete re-launch, and for the organisers to push attendance back up to high levels once more, and importantly to keep these numbers give for several meetings until members are confident that it will remain. I do not believe that slowly growing a failing group is likely to work, as each visitor that attends is unlikely to join.

So what’s next? Well, this is of course the big question. I do believe that there are too many networking groups to sustain, so if this is correct, more will fail before others grow. This is starting to be seen in networking chains where members are actively seeking out busy meetings and dismissing smaller ones. In a way, I suppose that this will eventually bring the number of groups back to equilibrium. The question is which groups will remain, and why are they more effective?

From a personal level, I have decided to re-assess my networking. I am a firm believer in networking being a long term strategy of building relationships and trust, and as a lot of members who I have built relationships with have left these organisations, I feel that I need to start again and forge new ones.

With this in mind, I have decided not to persist with struggling groups, but to cease (or at least pause) my membership and concentrate on the groups that are thriving. In addition, I am in the process of visiting newer groups and deciding for myself whether they fit my personality and whether they have potential.

It perhaps seems harsh to ‘ditch’ groups that have helped me in the past, but I need to make a decision that is best for my business, and I have stuck with these groups for too long. That being said, I’m a believer in never burning your bridges, and of course I may return to them in the near future.

I’d also like to think that any of the contacts that I have made during networking still like and trust me, and that they have the same strategy as me and I’ll hopefully see them at other groups.

I’d be interested in hearing what other networkers think of the current lull in attendance, and how they think both the organisers and the members can help.

Please contact me at Webbed Feet UK if you would like to share your opinion.

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