We’ve been there before, the group organiser tirelessly running a networking event with turnout dwindling as the months go on. Learning how to run a networking group well is something you need to know, before starting any group. You want the time and energy you put in to pay off, right?
As an events planner, I’ve had my fair share of both co-running and co-hosting groups and also being an attendee. I know much work goes into organising these events, from growing the initial group idea all the way to the first event.
Let’s starting diving into the crucial elements you need to know, when learning how to run a networking group successfully.
Laying Down The Foundation
Before learning how to run a networking group, you need to ask yourself some important questions, to ensure your group has a strong reason for being.
Attendees will be able to sense whether a group is worth returning to, the second they arrive at your event.
Why are you starting your group?
Firstly, ask yourself this big why. What is the key reason you want to do it?
Let’s say you wanted to start a group to serve freelancers. Are you doing this because there are no groups in your local area? Are the existing groups not to your satisfaction and something you could improve on? Are you wanting to reach out to specific freelancers, i.e., Coders, graphic designers, virtual assistants?
One of the groups I helped co-host and co-run in Berlin catered to German solopreneurs. There were many business groups in the city, but ours was the only one of its kind for this specific target audience.
How marketable is your group’s name?
Knowing how to run a networking group well is knowing how to promote it well. Your group name is the first thing people will see when searching for events. Try and pick a dynamic name that also includes your target demographic. For example, instead of using “coffee morning for freelancers,” you could name it “[City] Freelancers Brunch Club.” Don’t worry if your chosen name isn’t exactly who you serve, you can always change it.
How will your group be networking?
If you’re going to invest time and energy into learning how to run a networking group, it’s good to know what kind of group you want to host from the start.
There are two distinct types of group: a public event where attendees can attend a happy hour or speaker discussion; or a private group limited to a select number of guests.
If you want to build community with your group, you want think about you want your attendees to achieve or learn during the event. You need to provide everyone with a sense of value that compels them to come back to every event.
Another important point related to this is thinking about your own time commitment. How many hours can you realistically devote to your group? And do you have enough personal staying power, so that when attendees ebb and flow, you’re able to stay motivated and not discouraged?
How will you pay for overheads?
Deciding whether to charge your guests to attend is a big question you need to consider. As the organiser, you cannot be expected to run the event for free including free drinks and food. If you’re running your event outside of your day job, you shouldn’t be expected to work for free or pay for it from your own pocket.
You need to cover your costs in some way, and there are two ways to do it: charging door entry, or free door but everyone buys their own drinks at the bar.
I’ve found, as an attendee, that if I pay to attend an event, I feel the event is more professional. I understand the costs can help support the organiser and any helpers as well as invest in the group. You also know you’re going to get a high quality event.
We had free entry for the Solopreneurs group, whose venue (a café) opened up especially for us one evening a month. We encouraged everyone to buy drinks; and they always did.
How will you promote your group?
The last thing you need to figure out is how to promote your networking group. One key factor in learning how to run a networking group well is to build repeat attendance. You want people to know about your group, get value from your group, and keep coming back time and again.
If you’re not sure how to start when it comes to promotion, here are a few tips to get you started.
Use an email list. – One of the easiest ways to build community is by building an email list. This allows you to contact people on a regular basis, with events news and other information pertinent to the group. I’d recommend collecting emails at each event, to keep in touch with everyone including irregular attendees. You can start building a list today using Moosend.
List your group on Meetup. – If you’re interested in running a regular group in your area, you might consider adding it to Meetup.com. Meetup can free up how to run a networking group when it comes to finding people. You can also build a group profile on Meetup
Having said that Meetup is not free though, organisers pay $80 a year to feature their group. But you can easily make this money back by charging door entry or getting free drinks from the bar.
Use Facebook groups. – Make sure you have the permission of the admins first, of any group you join, before doing any promotion (or risk being banned).
Thinking About Your Event
You need a clear process when learning how to run a networking group well, so everything goes smoothly with each meeting. Here is an overview of the steps to follow after you’ve set up your group.
Pick a date
Choosing the right date is crucial, when learning how to run a networking group. Think about who you want to attract to your group and how your event fits their lifestyle.
For example, if you want to attract millennial freelancers who love networking, then consider running a happy hour. If your members are work-at-home parents, a lunchtime event might be more applicable for them. That’s not to say a lunch won’t suit millennial freelancers, you just need to think carefully about how to attract the people you want.
Find a venue
Once you’ve picked a date, the next step is to find a venue, such as a nearby restaurant, bar or local events space. If you want to host a more intimate group, you can hold this at a local coffee shop or at your kitchen table.
Decide on a topic
With your venue decided, it’s time to come up with a specific topic for your networking meeting. You may want to focus on themes relevant to your group or within a broader canvas. Freelancers, for example, may enjoy learning about the ins and outs of their industry, as a broader topic; but sharing personal struggles might be a smaller one.
If you can’t think of a topic, poll or survey your audience. You can also do some research and think about the common problems your people face.
Arrange speakers (as required)
If you want to include speakers, it’s essential to think about your budget and the time commitment you want them to make. You want to weigh up the value they can offer to your group as well as the benefit to the speaker. If you do go with a speaker, try and lock them down as early as you can, so you can get on with rest of your event planning.
What to do after everything’s arranged
Make sure you post all of the following info on your website (and Meetup profile, if you’re using one):
- Date and time of your event
- Address of the venue
- Map and travel information for the venue
- Theme of the night
- Duration of speaker discussion
Running Your Event
Now you’ve covered all of the above, you need to know how to run a networking group on the day of the event itself. Here are a few pointers to cover:
- Get to the venue early to finalise preparations
- If your speakers are using slides, have them sent over at least a week before the event
- Send a quick email reminder to attendees first thing in the morning
- Print out name badges with the guest’s name and their company name (if appropriate)
- Print a sign you can post at the venue so attendees can find you
- Meet and greet everyone as they arrive
- Before the event begins, call everyone together, thank them for coming and explain the night’s proceedings
- Give people 30 seconds each to introduce themselves to the group before activities begin
- Take lots of photos on the night
- Sit back and enjoy your evening, asking for feedback as you go
- Collect people’s emails addresses at the end of the night
- Catch people as they leave, wishing them a good night and nabbing their email as well
Learning how to run a networking group with consistent attendance and interest takes a lot of initial work and planning. But the payoff for you can be tremendous, if done well. Better yet, you will be providing your members with a place to call home, a community they can get involved in that can enrich their professional and personal lives.