Is networking killing your virtual assistant business?

A few weeks back I had an interesting conversation with a fellow new mum virtual assistant.  She was complaining about how tough it was to get childcare so she could go to networking meetings – thus creating a vicious cycle of not having enough money to be able to get out there and get some more work.  It galvanised me into sharing a little secret:

Even before having the baby, my last networking event was probably, um…three years ago? 

Okay, now for some people networking will work really well, they will enjoy doing it, they’ll get a buzz out of getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning.  Some VAs swear they get all their business from it, it’s the cornerstone of their business.  Even in this digital age, face to face networking still scored  second place on the “top ways to promote your virtual assistant business” question on the UK VA Survey v6. There is no doubt it works for some people.

However, I’m not one of those people.  In the early days of my business, I did lots of networking.  My bag bulged with business cards.  I faithfully followed up and built relationships.  I developed elevator pitches, handed out thousands of business cards, focused on selling “through the room”, tried different types of groups…  But to this day, I have never recouped on the time and money I invested.  And I’m a marketeer – I should know better than to throw good money after bad.  Unless you can measure the return on investment (ROI) of any marketing activity, you might as well be burning pound notes.

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But I was curious as to what I was doing wrong – because so many VAs insisted they got business out of it, where was I missing out?  But on questioning them further, it seemed they just weren’t measuring it properly.

  • Membership fees:             Range from £100-£500/year.
  • Breakfast:                          £10/week.
  • Your time:                         2-3 hours/week for the meeting + time to follow up leads.

That equates to £1,000/year in actual costs, even discounting their own time.  Were they really bringing in £100+ worth of business from each meeting? (If anyone is doing this, please get in touch, because I want to learn how!)

Or let’s say it’s less of an investment… It might just be a £30 lunch over 2 hours – that’s still £30 which you could have spent on Facebook ads (reaching 50,000 people) or printing postcards (50 of them) or buying a targeted marketing list (30 targeted contacts) rather than meeting maybe 20 other people who are only there because they know they have to network in order to get any business and stuffed themselves into a suit in order to hone their elevator pitch on you…

So firstly, there’s money draining out of your business by attending these events, but there’s also time draining out your business.  If you have a limited resource, you need to make it go as far as possible.  Therefore, if you have limited amounts of time, you need to spend it in the most effective way.

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What would happen if you committed the same amount of time and money to other forms of marketing as you do to networking?  I guarantee, you would get amazing results.  And you won’t even need to leave your desk to do it.

  1. Alyson Reay on 16 August, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I totally agree that networking can be a drain on time and money, and may not always provide a ROI if measured purely against client income, hence I am careful where I invest both my time and hard earned income. None of my loyal clients have come through formal networking groups, though I have had a small amount of transient business. It is a money making industry in itself of course!

    But there are other benefits of networking that you can’t quantify so easily – finding service providers who support my business and people/businesses I can recommend to my own clients, making me seem ‘well-connected’, as well as a supportive community and training opportunities.

    There is definitely a balance to be found, and I am still working out what that balance is for me.

  2. Carole Meyrick on 16 August, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Spot on as ever, Caroline. That was exactly the conclusion I came to about a nationwide networking organisation who shall remain nameless. Absolutely no ROI when I’d factored everything in, even the extra pounds gained by eating cooked breakfasts I didn’t want! However, local businesses are setting up a networking group run for businesses by businesses, with FREE monthly meetings from 6.30 to 8.30pm. Now that’s more my style, and there’s a lot of interested buzz about it at the moment. Long may it continue! Many of the members I already knew from a local business group on LinkedIn, and now we’ve met face to face.

  3. Sarah Cruickshank on 16 August, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Totally agree Caroline, I’ve just let the networking group I belonged to know that I won’t be renewing my membership because there is no ROI. A bunch of local freelances get together now every couple of months for lunch, with the only cost being what we choose to eat, much better.

  4. Carole Meyrick on 28 September, 2015 at 10:53 am

    A follow-up on my post of 16 Aug 2012 – the FREE networking group was set up, and has unfortunately just closed, due to time shortages for the members of the steering committee. Hopefully, like the Phoenix, it will rise again in the not too distant future.

    BUT it was a good way of doing some local networking at a time that was convenient for most business people in the locality. As it was free, and out of working hours, there was no loss of working hours, and of course no expenditure. So a win/win. Yes, I did get some business out of it, but more importantly as local business people we got to put a face to the names.

    • Caroline on 28 September, 2015 at 11:01 am

      An interesting follow up Carole – which shows that it IS worthwhile doing your own thing!

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