Best Online Networking Events for Small Business Owners
After the shift in the work model due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the business world was and forever will be changed from its pre-pandemic structure. One significant adjustment that is not going away any time soon is the prevalence of digital and virtual practices. As this is a transformation the business world was heading in before regardless of the pandemic, which merely accelerated the timeline, it comes as no surprise that the future of business–and the present–includes a heavy emphasis on the digital landscape. Technology has long been developing and assimilating into each area of life. For business professionals, one area where they can see the digitalization of the work world is when it comes to the networking events that have long been an indispensable resource.
The Future of Networking Events
2020 saw the cancellation of most marketing events, and in 2021 the virtual event started to get its footing; now, 2022 is expected to be a big year for online networking events, as time has given networking hosts the ability to adjust their events to effectively take place online. Of course, with the widespread distribution of vaccines has come the ability for the world to open up further than at any other point in the last two years, so in-person events are able to proceed to an extent, which means that networking events in 2022 will often be a mix of in-person and virtual guests.
Alex Patriquin, the CEO of Circa, a data service for event planning, says that the future of online events is an exciting time that has been worked up to by networking hosts, but it does have its challenges.
“Hybrid events are new and they’re difficult. It’s almost like putting on two events in one. You’ve got people dialing in virtually and then people there in person as well. There’s actually quite a lot of difference in terms of what experience is needed and the extra workload. The teams that produce the in-person events don’t necessarily have those event technology/live streaming production skills. It’s a big challenge, but it’s also very exciting because it does mean we could take advantage of the benefits of virtual and the benefits of in-person at the same time, at least theoretically. Some of the enterprises we’re talking to are questioning whether they host a hybrid event – as in one single event – or if it’s a hybrid calendar where there is an in-person event. Then maybe a few days before or after there’s a virtual version – so it’s best of both. As we enter this new world of virtual and hybrid events everything should be connected now,” he says.
Alex continues to mention that another element he expects to see in the future of virtual events is the calendar focus, where professionals attend a string of connected and complementary virtual events on any given month.
“It’s no longer about just one-off and ‘bigger is better’ but more about a customer journey. And that customer journey from an events perspective happens on a calendar. I believe that it is a really important paradigm shift from thinking of events as singular activities. Event technology is shifting focus to think about events as connected customer journeys, with more of a calendar focus,” says Alex Patriquin, CEO of Circa.
Similarly, Zach Nadler, the CEO of VaynerSpeakers, a speaker bureau for event planners, believes virtual events will be the lasting future of networking, even as in-person events can resume simultaneously, because online events open up attendance to a much larger audience, a benefit for business professionals and event planners alike.
“I do think that from a tech standpoint, virtual events will be here to stay. We’re having more conversations about hybrid events where it’s normally 300 people in Atlanta and suddenly it’s going to be 300 people in Atlanta, but they’re going to try and get 500 people from Europe virtually too. There’s a similar environment of hope and there’s a similar environment of excitement because people miss being together. They missed the community atmosphere that is congregating for a lot of industries that are based on one-on-one interactions in person. I think that all these new technologies are allowing for new ideas. To give a random example: audio tours and museums. You put your headphones on and you listen and people guide you through the exhibit. That’s fascinating. Why can’t we adopt that for a conference or a trade show? Where I can see a speaker live and appreciate and involve the people around me, without having to fly cross country and cover all of those costs, but it’s still better than me doing it at home,” says Zach Nadler, CEO of VaynerSpeakers.
The Best Online Networking Events
With the understanding that online networking events are just as well planned out and useful as in-person events (while being far more accessible), how do you narrow down the vast list of online networking platforms to choose from? These are the best platforms for finding and participating in online networking events for small business owners, as recommended by business executives and CEOs.
“It might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of networking events, but Facebook is an app we are all already connected on, and it has a lot of interesting and valuable connections being made through its Group feature. You can start a group and gather thousands of others interested in the same topic, or browse around by keyword and find multitudes of options. Many of the groups on Facebook are quite niche as well, so there is a good audience on Facebook for unique topics or interests. One Facebook networking group I recommend for women is The Women’s Business Collective.”
- Lillie Sun, Growth Manager of Three Ships Beauty
“While not a networking event website per se, Google Meet is an incredibly useful platform where anyone with a Gmail account can host their own meetings or webinars free of charge. Right now the only limitations are that events are capped at 100 guests and sixty minutes. As a CEO, I’m always hearing about the marketing benefits of hosting webinars or virtual events to help get your name out there and share your knowledge to benefit others. It has actually been something I’ve been wanting to become a bigger part of my life in 2022–co-hosting or guest appearing in webinars or networking events. With Google Meet I know it will be a smooth process as long as I confine the event within their parameters.”
- Elliot Schwarcz, CEO of Becca’s Home
Evolution Virtual Networking
“Evolution Virtual Networking is a weekly digital networking group that does exactly what it aims to do: it connects small business owners with each other for an hour and a half once a week to briefly meet and discuss predetermined topics or questions, or view a presentation. Through the event, small business owners are making strong connections with others all over the world and are able to ask business questions they may be struggling with, so it is certainly a useful resource to participate in.”
- Jim Beard, COO of Box Genie
“You may not have known that LinkedIn has a section for networking events because they aren’t overtly obvious to find, and yet LinkedIn is a great place to discover or post events because most professionals have an account that they regularly visit. To find events, you simply type in a keyword into the search bar and filter the findings by ‘Events.’ The majority of the events on LinkedIn are exclusively offered online. Attending the events is incredibly easy with only the push of a button, and due to the ‘Invite’ feature, you can use LinkedIn for part of your event marketing strategy as well.”
- Rachel Roff, Founder and CEO of Urban Skin Rx
Small Business Forum
“While not the most standout design or highly marketed networking platform, the Small Business Forum is a no frills website for small business owners to connect, offer advice, ask questions, and share their upcoming events. Current categories on the forum include but aren’t limited to ‘Marketing,’ ‘Financial and Legal,’ ‘Your Small Business,’ and ‘Community Talk’; under each category are thousands of threads and posts, so chances are you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for, and if not, you can start your own thread. Smallbusinessforum.net really is a great community for small business owners to gather expertise and know they aren’t alone in their creative pursuits.”
- Oliver Zak, CEO and Co-Founder of Mad Rabbit
The Rebellious Business Network
“The Rebellious Business Network markets itself as ‘like a membership without the membership fees.’ You sign up for the email list and receive notifications about attending live Zoom calls and events, and you also receive access to a collection of resources and the Facebook group under the same name. Although a relatively new creation (born at the start of the pandemic) the community is already thousands strong. This is a great platform for small business owners because it is specifically targeted towards entrepreneurs.”
- Jim Marggraff, CEO of Kinoo
Network After Work Virtual Networking
“Marketed towards the full spectrum of business professionals, from entrepreneurs to small business owners to executives, Network After Work is a community to offer a support system and deeper knowledge to those already enmeshed into the business world. They host regular events in varying time zones. On their website you can easily discover and register for both virtual and in-person networking events.”
- Justin Soleimani, Co-Founder of Tumble
“Many people know about Eventbrite because they have used it to find out about and register for upcoming experiences near them, such as concerts or workshops or fitness classes. Eventbrite is also a great resource for virtual networking events. The event management site’s navigation makes it simple to filter through upcoming events and learn all the details you need, including how to register. If you’re interested in creating your own networking event, you can use Eventbrite to gather attendees and spread the word as well, since sharing your own event is made easy through their platform. And since so many people are already familiar with Eventbrite, the chances are high that more attendees will learn about your event–although you can always specify the privacy settings for your post.”
- John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner of Berry Law
We’ve learned that the virtual event is the future of business networking, as well as which online networking platforms come highly recommended by business owners for business owners–particularly for those running small and starting up businesses. Don’t hesitate to explore each one for the up and coming digital networking events so you don’t miss out. And remember to follow a business networking group for more updates or make your own event calendar so you can attend many valuable events and gain connections and knowledge without ever leaving your house!