Networking Events: Which Are The Best – Free Or Chargeable?


The rise of free networking events has been rather incredible lately and this rise has certainly shaken up the networking landscape, that’s for sure. However do they give the chargeable ones a run for their money or are they usually inferior as a whole?

In my view, it’s not an easy one to answer.

I have been to some excellent events I have paid for, (either through membership or on as a pay-as-you-go basis). I have also attended some poor ones.

The same can be said for the free events I have attended.

It’s important to add that free events also include those which are sponsored meaning costs are usually borne, or subsidised, by one or more organisations nominated by the host. Free can also be a result of a business hosting the event and also bearing the cost and, either at their own offices or at a separate venue such as a hotel.

There are many types of events too: Those which insist on one attendee per business category or some who are not fussed how many professionals turn up from each business sector.

Then there are many formats as well: From very structured ones, usually with a set agenda, to the more informal mix and mingle ones. Some will require you to pitch, (but not sell), others don’t include that.

There are many more dynamics to networking. The above examples are merely the tip of the iceberg. For example, where networking is mixed with a series of presentations. You get the picture, I’m sure.


“Go to xxx networking event, it’s brilliant and it’s free!”

“Free ones are usually rubbish”.

“You get what you pay for.”

“I’d rather pay for attending events. You’ll meet larger businesses and you avoid the timewasters.”

“I paid £350 for a year’s membership at X networking group, plus the cost of my breakfasts and never got a return (on investment) so I didn’t renew my membership.”

“I prefer pay-as-you-go networking events as you’re not tied to anything and I get the flexibility”.

“Membership means commitment. People are therefore more inclined to turn up more regularly so that benefits everyone.”

Many conflicting views indeed.

I have personally hosted countless events, (networking groups and seminars), and one thing I learned very quickly is that it’s impossible to please everyone. Most networkers will compliment, however someone may complain about the food; another person won’t be too happy with the location, another may not like some of the people – others even the price. Most usually return, some don’t. Networkers will attend regularly, others won’t. So, if you’re inclined to take things personally, my tip is: Never host an event, just attend! 🙂

From a networker’s point of view, what’s the answer?

Well, my advice is do your research or going to many networking events, (paid for or even free), may cost you dear. Free will still incur transportation costs and, of course, your time both during and after the meetings. (‘After’ because the wrong type of business people may wish to use up your precious time by suggesting “Let’s meet for coffee!” and pick your brains.

An effective #networking ‘barometer’ is word-of-mouth.

Why I highlight who is important: If the person who is suggesting a free event is not someone you would usually network with yourself, be weary. This may suggest the groups they are recommending won’t be the types you would typically, or even should, go to. (This is a generalisation of course). Conversely, if the person who is recommending networking groups appears focused and has a lot of knowledge in this field – and knows a lot of people – chances are they are more qualified to give sound advice.

Just as in the world of #socialmedia, everyone is a #networking ‘expert!’ 😉 #ACCELerate

Also be very aware of those incentivised in some way to invite you and even sign you up for chargeable events. They don’t necessarily have to be the organiser. Some members get points or are even paid as an affiliate so they could well be biased with their advice.

There are of course many other ways you can carry out your research. A good place to start is your local council. (Contrary to popular belief, your local Chamber usually isn’t as impartial as many may think. Many Chambers of Commerce are seeking your membership just as much as the next chargeable networking group. I’ve experienced this myself in my early days as an entrepreneur. Again, research before you commit to any membership of any organisation.

So with the title of my blog in mind, neither the free nor chargeable ones have the winning formula in my view. There are too many aspects to networking to give you a simple view. That doesn’t mean your research needs to be complex. Follow your gut too. Networking is about people after all. If you don’t have a good feeling about the people who run a particular group, avoid it – free or not.

No-one needs an accreditation to run a networking organisation however charisma and energy certainly goes a long way as it’s usually rare to find a group that has your business interests in mind before their own. I also mention energy as you can also go on-line and, assuming a particular group has a social media presence, how much effort are they putting into ensuring their events are well attended? After all, no-one likes turning up to a dead networking event.

One or two tweets promoting their own events certainly won’t cut it in our ever noisy on-line world today.

It’s about you, not them:

How many groups, (especially ones that are happy to take your money for membership fees), actually ask you what your networking objectives are and also ask how they may help you achieve them? Chances are they are too busy. Some won’t even care, especially if they are chasing business to sustain membership numbers. If you’re new to networking, do consider this aspect when deciding which group(s) you’ll be attending regularly to help grow your business.

I’ll leave you with my three R’s:

Research. (Not just the network however those running it. They should at least be in LinkedIn).

Re-evaluate. (Whilst attending. Free doesn’t necessarily mean better so consider the value you’re getting).

Remain or ‘nexit’! (Come on, I’m British. We stick anything in front of ‘exit ‘ these days!) 😉

Good luck!


John Coupland
John Coupland
JOHN is an independent marketing consultant and is the bestselling author of ACCELerate™ Your Social Media. With extensive experience in e-business and ICT, he helps ambitious entrepreneurs, business owners, and corporates with their business growth using his unique and proven ACCELerate™ methodology. John speaks at leading business events, has written a number of articles for major publications worldwide, and is a member of The Brain Trust®, Small Business Advocate Show®, America. Amongst a number of awards, John played an instrumental role in helping a major UK department store chain achieve the Queen's Awards for Enterprise - Innovation. Learn more at ACCELerate™ Your Business

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  1. Interesting viewpoint John. Picking the right network is always challenging and I should know having been to many of them – both free and paid for. Furthermore, I run the Omni Business Network in South Croydon.
    What I have learnt is that free is not always going to give poor results if the attendees are in your ideal customer category or know people like your ideal customers.
    Paid-for networks do tend to generate greater commitment from the members to the network and to each other as a result. Moreover, the results from paid networking come from building relationships with the members over time through regular attendance and meeting up for 121s outside the meetings.
    Perhaps the biggest denominator in terms of whether a network works is the mindset of the people in the room. All too often people go networking focused on what they can get from others. You see, if the other people there think the same and are self-absorbed, no one helps anyone else, so everyone loses (aka no return on investment).
    Whereas going with the mindset of ‘how can I help others’ generates the goodwill for them to reciprocate. This need not be in terms of buying from each other . In fact, the best results usually come from connecting people with contacts who need their services and vice versa. When networkers go out to help others, everyone wins!

    • Hi Eny,

      Thank you for your comments. You make some excellent points.

      I agree, a great mindset goes a long way.

      I believe that networking should take place alongside business support / training – even if on occasion.

      For example, some networkers will be newer than others when it comes to working with those in corresponding businesses so may require more help and nurturing than those who are more experienced.

      Networking can also be incredibly daunting for others too so, if business support and training isn’t offered, they at least need some encouragement.