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All networking is not created equal

I get invited to networking events a lot. Women’s networking events, chamber networking events, technical networking events, speaker networking events. Sometimes I get invited and I have NO IDEA why.

I rarely accept these invitations. Since the invites usually come in email, ignoring them is sufficient, but sometimes I decline in person. Since I suck at lying, I try to explain why I’m saying no, which usually ends badly, because these people don’t understand.

Example: I will say “The people who attend that event are not people who will buy my services. They ARE business owners, but they typically don’t need custom software and are too small to afford it anyway.”

Their response: “We get people from a lot of different businesses, and besides: they probably KNOW someone who would buy your services. You never know.”

True. But….

That still doesn’t mean it is a good use of my time. I am a freelancer. I have limited time to market my services AND actually provide value to my customers. If I went to every networking event I was invited to, it would take at least 20% of my time. Time I wouldn’t be programming!

But even more importantly: the argument is flawed. Just because other attendees might KNOW someone who needs my services doesn’t mean they will every have a conversation about me. Do you tell your chiropractor that you are looking for a programmer for your business? And even if you did, would you trust whoever they recommended?

Pretty unlikely.

Now if you are selling website redesigns to small businesses, then attending these events makes perfect sense. Your customers are there.

And I’m not saying don’t go to networking events. I recommend doing it to get out of the house and practice interacting with non-technical people. But just be realistic about what to expect. For many of these events, you are unlikely to drum up any work.

And consider other types of networking rather than random events, like lunch with former colleagues, or events that aren’t branded as networking but where you are likely to meet potential clients. My chamber holds a monthly legislative breakfast where you can meet local politicians and hear about laws that might affect your business. I am much more likely to meet a potential client at one of those events than a typical pass-around-the-business-cards event.

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