Seattle Business Networking
As a business person, you know that in order to survive, you need revenue; in order to get revenue, you need customers; and in order to have customers purchase your product or service, you have to first reach them through your marketing efforts. There are many strategies you can use for marketing (ranging from cold calling to direct mail); many businesses find that networking is an important component of their overall marketing plan.
The aim of networking is to build a network of people who will help facilitate meeting new clients, through referring you or collaborating with you on projects. In return, it is expected that you will also help them meet new clients. There are several reasons why this is a useful strategy:
- People often choose where to do business based on the recommendations of their friends, family, and trusted business associates.
- A phone call or email message to a potential client is much more compelling if you can make a personal connection (such as "Jane Smith suggested I call").
- You cannot meet every potential customer for your business in person -- there's simply not enough time in the day. However, when you instead spend the time to make a good networking connection, it can result in many clients.
- When you refer your clients to businesses in your network, you are helping your clients (who get the products and services they need) and the businesses you refer them to (who get new customers), and strengthening your own relationship with your clients and network.
You can go about building your network in many ways. For instance, you could ask your past customers for referrals, and make sure your friends and family know all about your business. These are good ideas; but in addition, many business owners also find it beneficial to make connections to other business owners, for mutual referrals and partnerships, through attending business networking meetings. Here are a couple of tips for getting the most out of business networking meetings:
- Figure out what type of people you want to meet before you go, and plan to talk longer to those people than to others you might run into. The object is to form a network (not necessarily to meet customers directly), so you want to try to meet other business owners who provide complementary products or services to similar clients, so that you can share referrals with them or do projects together. For instance, if your business provides database design services to other businesses, you would probably want to focus on meeting others who provide business services, such as graphic designers and accountants. On the other hand, if you are a massage therapist, you would probably want to focus on other healthcare and personal service providers. Why? Well, consider this. If you were looking for a database designer, do you think you would be more likely to ask your massage therapist or your accountant for a reference, and whose reference do you think you would trust more? And if you were looking for an acupuncturist, do you think you would be more likely to ask your massage therapist or your accountant for a reference, and who would you be more likely to trust?
- Plan and/or rehearse your message -- have an "elevator speech" ready to go (15 seconds to explain what products or services you sell), and also be ready to expand.
- Your audience of potential network members is not likely to understand and act on your message the first time you present it. For that reason, it's important to find a group that contains a lot of good potential connections for you and your business, and attend regularly.
- When you meet people who you think are likely to be good referral partners, arrange a one-on-one meeting with them (coffee or lunch), so you can get to know each other better. Referrals are more likely to happen between people who have spent more than a few minutes getting to know each other.
Armed with these ideas about the importance of networking, and a strategy for who you want to meet and what you are going to say to them, the next step is to find meetings to attend.
In the Seattle area, you can find business networking meetings listed on the following calendar web sites. If you know of a good site that isn't listed here, please contact us -- these calendars go up and down in quality a lot, and new ones come on the scene. Here are my current favorites (as of 3/19/09):
- 24x7 Calendar -- excellent event calendar with an internet and technology focus
- Meet at the Pig -- a Seattle technology-oriented calendar
- TechFlash -- "Seattle's Technology News Source" has an event calendar
- Techvibes Seattle Events -- another tech-event listing for Seattle
- Gary's Guide Seattle -- a business event calendar
- Seattle Tech Calendar - lists tech-oriented events from a few sources
- Craig's List Event Calendar, which has a mish-mash of self-posted business and non-business events and classes, with a search feature (try "business" or "networking" as keywords)
- I Love Seattle - a Seattle Networking guide, with networking arranged by category. Also has an event calendar, and links to other event calendars.
- Seattle Times business calendar -- self-posted listings, currently dominated by a couple of groups (for instance, the first 17 listings on one recent day were all from the same organization).
- Puget Sound Business Journal calendar -- recently became a pay-for-listings ($99) calendar, so probably limited to commercial events with larger budgets. The print edition of the newspaper has a much more extensive calendar.
- List of Washington Associations and Organizations - this is maintained by the Washington State Library, and is a good place to look for professional organizations to visit, join, sponsor, or give seminars to.
Here are a few specific business networking organizations that operate in Seattle (if you know of a good Seattle-area general business networking organization that isn't listed here, please contact us):
- General business networking:
- Northwest Entrepreneur Network has seminars and networking breakfasts aimed at "helping entrepreneurs succeed"
- MIT Enterprise Forum also hosts seminars, focused somewhat on technology ventures
- Biznik has numerous networking opportunities, organized by its members
- LeTip is a lead-generation group, meaning that you apply to join a small-ish group and agree to refer business to other members (and they to you)
- BNI (Business Networking International) is another lead generation group
- Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce has several networking events and business seminars every month; you must join to attend after your first meeting. There are also smaller chambers of commerce in most Seattle neighborhoods and neighboring cities, which you should be able to locate on Google; the smaller chambers tend to focus on retail businesses and community events.
- Business networking for women:
- Seattle SBA office hosts Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training (WNET) breakfasts in locations around the Sound, with excellent speakers, great networking, and highly relevant topics
- Women Business Owners has monthly networking lunches on the fourth Thursday of the month with speakers, as well as "after-hours" networking events in the evening
- Women's Business Exchange has monthly networking breakfasts on the second Thursday of the month, with a slightly more spiritual focus and a very supportive group of attendees
- eWomenNetwork has networking meetings all around the country, including several that meet in the greater Seattle area
- Business and Professional Women, Washington State is organized into local chapters; each holds regular meetings, with a business networking component and a focus on community service.
- Networking for particular groups or industries:
- Washington Technology Industry Association (formerly WSA) has many regular events
- Association for Women in Computing - Puget Sound has monthly networking dinners
- Seattle Perl Users Group has monthly meetings
- Seattle Drupal Users Group has monthly meetings and puts on an annual "Drupal Camp"
- Seattle WordPress Developers Group has monthly meetings and an email list
- Greater Seattle Linux Users Group has monthly meetings
- Seattle Lunch 2.0 has lunches for the tech community
- NPost has networking events for the tech startup community
- Seattle Tech Startups also has networking events for the tech startup community
- Puget Sound SIGCHI has monthly meetings and an email list for User Experience professionals
- Graphic Artists Guild - Seattle has monthly networking events
- American Institute of Graphic Arts - Seattle has frequent networking events and seminars
- Greater Seattle Business Association is oriented towards gay- and lesbian-owned businesses, and has many networking events
- Washington State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- American Society for Training and Development - Puget Sound has meetings and other events
- International Society for Process Improvement - Seattle has monthly meetings
- Product Management Consortium has monthly meetings
- International Association of Outsourcing Professionals - Pacific Northwest chapter is supposedly going to alternate quarterly meetings between Seattle and Portland, starting in January 2008
- On-line networking: