LinkedIn has over 150 million users in more than 200 countries, the average number of connections per user has not been made public, but there is a limit of 3000 invitations one can send out. However, once you cross the 500+ contacts line, can you really tell who belongs to you connections and will you ever use them? Well, if your answer is "no", there is a way to change it! Networks like Spanish Negocios y Networking or American Let’s Lunch show us how to move the contacts from a computer to a restaurant table and turn them into future professional collaborations.
Networking vs. Net Lunch
Most of us have a profile on LinkedIn, Xing or Facebook. Ever since the links to the online networking sites started to appear in our email signature or CV, we have been building up our connections, contacts and friends groups; we have been also sending, receiving, accepting or rejecting hundreds of invitations to be able to finally establish our profile and use it for professional purposes. Some use the networking sites to watch the competition, others to build their online presence or monitor consumer’s reactions to new products or services. The executives involved in hiring decisions are finding these online communities to be a valuable tool. Long story short, the online networking sites are essential for almost every business or/and professional. It is safe to say that we have already figured out the way of turning the business cards into our online connections. However, can we actually use the infinite number of our online connections and create valuable business relationships?
Net Lunch project seems to be an ideal solution. The idea of networking while having lunch empowers the participants and allows them to capture new business opportunities, new clients, present their projects and launch new products. The members of connected groups exchange their peer to peer experience, valuable information and contacts which then allow them to build long-lasting relationships with people who share common professional interests. This is one of the most productive environments where entrepreneurs, self-employed or SMEs can expand their businesses and reach out to investors, experts or advisors, all during the lunch hour.
How it works and where to go for a Net Lunch?
The presence of the net-lunch websites has recently become more visible. Most of them use your already existing LinkedIn profile to determine the relevant group of professionals that you might be willing to meet up and have lunch with, i.e. Let’s Lunch. , an American project launched in 2010 with its equivalents in New Zeeland and Italy. The idea is very simple: First the network uses the information from your LinkedIn profile or other social networks, then they ask you to select your interests from different categories, which also helps to establish your potential lunch partners, then you need to let them know when and where you will be available, afterwards you will receive an email with details of the person that you will be having lunch with, all you need to do is to confirm your meeting and you are good to go! The very important part of the process is the feedback that you give on the lunch and the person you met.
The other example from across the ocean is Go Grab Lunch , a network that connects professionals for face to face, one on one lunch at local restaurants in the USA. Here the first step is to create your profile with your networking preferences, then the network chooses the list of members that are available and you simply go and have lunch with the members that you had chosen.
There are a lot of European versions of this movement, some of them are designed mainly for female entrepreneurs and professionals, like Conecta Lunch a Spanish network for business women who meet up and talk business through a videoconference using Google+. A part from one on one lunch they focus on the videoconferences in order to reach out to a larger crowd.
Another business model of the Net Lunch trend is Negocios y Networking, a Spanish company founded in 2009, focused on active networking through business breakfasts and lunches attended by the members of the network and, on special occasions, also experts, mentors and high level executives willing to share their thoughts and inspire the rest of the participants. For the past 3 years the project has generated over 6000 contacts, over 5500 businesses have been made, in addition, they managed to organize over 100 entrepreneurial workshops.
A slight variation of the Net Lunch meetings is the model of First Tuesday, a non-profit network made of entrepreneurs that meet on a monthly basis to help each other in their financing and growth stages. The objectives are: to network, to train the future entrepreneurs and to help the new projects succeed. Today the network has 10 684 members including 363 investors, 6344 entrepreneurs and 3960 others.
The numbers show that the Net Lunch networks are still far behind the giant LinkedIn, in terms of the total number of members and the online presence. While the Net Lunch initiative focuses on the quality of networking, the rest of the social and professional networks are more about the quantity (number of your connections, friends, etc.). Knowing how to make the most out of both seems to be the key to expand your network and do more business.