A review of London’s networking scene

Before I start writing this blog I want to add in a tremendously important caveat in the form of an analogy. Now, I used to have a best friend who, for the sake of this article, we will call Petunia. Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t love her like a sister, it was that increasingly our friendship became more difficult and, eventually, untenable. Sadly, untangling myself from Petunia turned out to be rather difficult and there were many a time I really just wanted to sit her down and say, “babe it’s not me, it’s you…..” But, you can’t really say that, but what I can do ladies and gents is turn to you and say if networking isn’t working for you it’s not networking. It is you. You are Petunia. Because, by seeing the same business owners time and time again you should absolutely be able to make connections that lead to business. And if you can’t, then it’s time to reassess your strategy. Now, there is a swathe of content out there on how to effectively network and I don’t really feel the need to add any extraneous content to the proverbial fire – there is already more than enough. But, if you are unsure please do feel free to check out this fantastic blog by the wonderful marketer and networker Helen Cox all about successful networking.

Now, that being said there are obviously a number of groups out there and it can be a little tricky to know where to start, but panic not – I have your back and here, for your reading pleasure, is my guide to networking events in London.

BNI – We might as well start with the biggest – BNI, for those of you don’t know, is pretty controversial. A little like marmite it is either passionately loved, or equally passionately, reviled as a cult. And the truth is, both arguments are valid– BNI, unquestionably, has aspects that are a little cult like, but in the same breath it can, and does, absolutely lead to business. I think if you are in an industry like the trades, web design or photographer i.e. – highly competitive and easy to refer it really is a no-brainer. And as an ex-member myself I absolutely made my money back, continue to gain business from it and made some fantastic connections. However, BNI is also a huge amount of work; demanding a lot of time (early morning, mandatory, weekly, meetings, 1-2-1s, training etc…), a pressure to bring referrals to other members and it can, sometimes, feel a little cult-like. And, to be honest, the early morning meetings mean it’s practically impossible for working mums with young kids, and does mean it tends to be male dominated. For me, just starting out, it was a true baptism of fire and I have neither regrets about joining nor leaving – both were the right decision for me at the time. I still sub at my old group and continue to maintain those relationships (mainly because I genuinely do like a number of the people), and I often debate re-joining as, like I said, it does work. You just have to decide if the pain is worth the gain.

WIBN – A group solely dedicated to women’s networking – it runs at lunchtimes (handy for mums) and is by no means as harsh as BNI in terms of pressure to be the in the room and bring referrals. It is often mocked for being a) sexist to men (you know what folks…my heart does indeed bleed for the soul of the rich, white man) and b) not being a proper networking group. However, I have been a member since I started my business and have received good pieces of business. I would say that it’s very much a long game and doing the 1-2-1s is tremendously important so the women do get to know, like and trust you. Do make sure also to visit a few groups before joining (I think you can visit twice) to make it’s appropriate for your business.

4N – OK….I have to be honest I am not a huge fan of this one…although that being said I have only attended twice and never in Central London. On the other side of the coin, I know it does work for certain businesses. I think it takes a gentler approach to networking which works for many and for people with micro-businesses it can be extremely effective. It is also at the cheaper end of the scale.

BNL – Both I and a friend of mine have been to this and, not only is it pricey, but it has never been particularly well attended or well organised, not one I would recommend.

Ex-BNI groups – These are, in my humble opinion, generally exceptional. Taking all the good bits from BNI, but without the rather painful points (including the high cost) – I would recommend finding groups near you, there are quite a few bashing around London and feel free to message me for any recommendations.

I’m at 826 words so I think we’ll leave it there for now, there are, of course, a number of other networking groups and I may well do a part 2 on local groups (would this be of interest?) Before I sign off, I know that this blog may well serve to piss people off and I want to assure you that is by no means my intention. When starting out I was extremely overwhelmed by choice and wasn’t really sure where to start; and a blog like this would have been ruddy helpful. However, I have been nervous about publishing something like this for fear of backlash, but recent events have taught me that haters are gonna hate and simply by interacting on the interweb I am opening myself up to critique. So what I’m basically saying is come at me – I’m ready.

I also feel compelled to add that this sort of frank and conversational tone is not necessarily one I would use with clients. And when working with you I will develop a unique tone of voice that is appropriate for your brand and audience. So if you would like any help feel free to give me a call on 0208 629 6464 or drop me an email on helena@helenabaker.com. To view my rates, service and some pictures of me blonder and with straight hair – feel free to take a look at my website www.helenabaker.com