The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.26

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Marketing and Lead Generation Strategies: Why I don’t recommend networking

Last week I wrote about whether you should be on social media. Almost as a side note, I mentioned that networking is one of the alternatives, but I don’t recommend it.

One of my subscribers caught this comment and wrote back:

“Curious why you indicated that among the other channels to market, networking isn’t recommended. Can you elaborate on this?”

I wrote a quick reply, but in retrospect it was not as well considered as I would have liked. So here is a more detailed response.

Networking is the OG of lead generation

Side note: According to Merriam-Webster, OG means “original” and has its roots in the term “Original Gangster”. The term is used to describe someone or something that is the original or originator, particularly if said person or thing is very respected or highly regarded. An "OG" is extremely talented and authentic in what they do.

Before the Internet, the number of channels to market was a lot more limited than we enjoy today. In fact, networking has been around for as long as people have wanted to sell stuff. In principle, you meet with a group of people, mingle, and see if there’s interest in what you have to offer. If there is, you follow up.

Networking, by definition, takes place at a networking event. There are three main types of networking events:

1. General purpose networking events

The first type of networking event is what I call “general purpose”. Joining a local Chamber of Commerce, and attending their events, is general purpose, because there will be people from all walks of life (usually in business of some kind).

General purpose networking events are great if you have a horizontal specialization, like marketing or branding. Everyone needs marketing and branding, so just about everyone you meet is a potential client.

2. Specialized events

Specialized events pull together people with a common interest. Trade shows and industry associations are two examples - if you’re a builder, you will attend a building trade show or join a local building association.

Specialized events are great if you specialize in a vertical. If, for example, you specialize in helping builders automate their project management, you should network with potential clients at building trade shows and association events.

3. Main attraction events

In a “main attraction” event, you are the main attraction. You are a speaker or keynote speaker, and you have a captive audience for as long as you’re on stage. Once you’ve delivered your talk, interested people come to you.

To be clear, I classify this type of event as “public speaking” and not networking (though you will be “networking” with people). I always recommend public speaking as a lead generation strategy.

Choose your event with care

If you do choose to participate in networking events, choose your event with care (duh!). I always recommend public speaking (where you are the main attraction). But if you attend any of the others, make sure your ideal clients are likely to be there as well, and that you have a reasonable chance of opening a conversation.

The networker versus the content / social media marketer

I don’t know any entrepreneur or business owner who relies on a single channel to market for all their marketing and lead generation. But because our time is limited, we’re going to prefer the things that work for us, or we believe to be the best way to generate leads.

So let’s takes a look at what life looks like, five years from now, for someone who prefers and specializes in networking, versus someone who prefers and specializes in content and social media marketing.

The networker: five years from now

For the past 5 years I’ve done the majority of my lead generation through networking.

On average, I’ve:

  • attended 30 events per year (a total of 150 events),
  • met 20 new people at each event (a total of 3,000 people),
  • of those, about 10% led to further conversations (300 people),
  • and of those, about 10% turned into clients (30 clients in 5 years, or 6 per year).

(These numbers are optimistic - if you do a lot of networking, I would love to hear how the numbers look for you.)

Here’s what the good side of my (marketing) life looks like now:

  • I’m really good at this networking thing and it’s easy to meet and talk with strangers.
  • When I meet someone who has a genuine need, and they’re ready to talk, it’s relatively fast and easy to convert them into a client.
  • I’m well known in the geographical area that is within my reach.
  • I’ve had recommendations from happy clients that resulted in more clients.

But there’s also a downside:

  • I have to keep doing the networking thing every day / week / month.
  • I have to go through a lot of effort to qualify each person I meet as a good lead.
  • I’ve met just about everyone that could be interested in my services.
  • I have to travel further and further to reach more, new leads.

Depending on your services and pricing, 6 clients a year may be good or bad. Now compare this with what the content marketer’s life could look like.

The content / social media marketer: five years from now

I do most of my marketing and lead generation through content marketing (blog articles syndicated to Medium and LinkedIn), and social media marketing on LinkedIn.

In those 5 years, I’ve:

  • produced an article every week (around 250 of them),
  • posted on LinkedIn every day,
  • built my LinkedIn followers to 20,000 and email list to 5,000 subscribers,
  • about 10% enquired about my services (2,000), and
  • about 10% turned into clients (200 total or an average of 40 a year).

Here’s what my (marketing) life looks like now:

  • I spend 4-6 hours a week creating an article and 7 LinkedIn posts.
  • I spend an hour a day actively engaging with people on LinkedIn.

The upside of this:

  • As I get better at content marketing, I spend less time doing it.
  • I can prepare my content marketing whenever I like (I don’t have to attend events at specific dates and times).
  • My followers and subscriber list keeps growing (the potential seems endless).
  • People come to me when they’re ready to buy.

And the downside:

  • It took a long time for this to really pick up momentum.
  • I had to learn new skills (copywriting, email marketing).
  • When I stop marketing, growth slows down (but my list doesn’t get smaller).

Am I comparing apples to oranges?

The examples above may seem fictitious - and in part, they are:

  • The number of clients in each case is made up.
  • The “marketing life now”, upsides and downsides are very real.

The biggest difference is in the number of clients - 30 versus 200.

In each case, I’ve made the assumption that 10% of leads enquired, and 10% of those turned into clients. You should be able to handle 6 clients a year, but your service and pricing needs to reflect that. If you land 40 clients a year, your pricing, and the type of product or service you can deliver, has to reflect that as well.

Now lets get to the bottom of why I don’t recommend networking.

Why I don’t recommend networking

Here are the fundamental differences between networking and content / social media marketing:

  • Speed: Initially, networking is faster than inbound marketing at generating leads. Over the long term, it requires a lot more effort and there is little or no momentum.
  • Momentum: Networking is a bicycle you have to keep pedalling or it stops. Content and social media marketing takes time to build (months or years), but once you have the momentum it’s easy to maintain (and leads / clients keep showing up). Content marketing (long-form articles) have a very nice long-tail effect.
  • Reach: You can reach way more potential clients with content / social media marketing than with networking. Literally thousands of people will notice when you publish an article, release a new product or service, or announce a momentous event.
  • Effort: I can’t confidently say that networking requires more or less effort than content marketing. What is clear is that you will spend less time with content marketing as you get better at it, and you have more time flexibility.

But the biggest difference is this:

With content / social media marketing, clients come to you when they’re ready to talk.

With networking, you have to qualify each person you meet. Are they a potential client? Would they be an ideal client? Do they need what you’re offering? Do they need it now? And do they have budget? And then (because you’re selling) you have to overcome all their objections.

Most of these questions - and objections - are just not an issue when they come to you. You’re not selling - they’re buying.

For these reasons, I generally don’t recommend networking as a primary networking strategy. And as always, there are some caveats, but before we get to that, some examples of content and social media marketing done well.

Examples of content / social media marketing done well

There are many great examples on LinkedIn of entrepreneurs who do content and social media marketing well. Here are two of my favourites:

  • Justin Welsh has a following of over 440,000. He shows up on LinkedIn every day, targeting people who want to transition from being an employee to an entrepreneur. He sells only two products on his website, each priced at a very modest $150. His annual income from these product sales is well into 6 figures.
  • Jasmin Alić has over 100,000 followers and “makes writing & LinkedIn easy for everyone”. Went from 0 to 40,000 followers in one year. Sells LinkedIn and copywriting courses.

To get an idea of how they do their thing, check out their posts on LinkedIn.

These are top of the heap, obviously. But think about this - if you have even 10% of these numbers, how many clients would you likely have?

Bottom line

Generally, I don’t recommend networking as a lead generation strategy. There are two exceptions:

  • If networking is working for you now, keep doing it. There is no sense in stopping something that is working.
  • If you’re an extrovert, networking should be high on your list. It won’t wear you down - in fact it will boost your energy.

If networking is not working for you, or you’re early in the game and you need to make a decision, my recommendation would be:

  • Public speaking: Captive audience, immediate perception as an expert, gives you a chance to hone your message, immediate feedback.
  • LinkedIn marketing (if this is where your clients hang out): takes discipline to show up each day over a long time, but pays off well in terms of recognition, reputation and enquiries.
  • Content marketing: Long-form articles. Create a blog on your website, and cross-post to other platforms (LinkedIn and Medium recommended).

I’ve put my money on content and social media marketing. It’s a long-term game, but I’ve seen how it can pay off. My goal: build my LinkedIn followers from 2,000 now to 20,000 this time next year. Watch this space.