Why do we network? It’s an important question that most of us don’t consider. I didn’t until I started my business in 2004. People told me that networking would be an important way to build my practice. I agreed and started going to traditional, cocktail-style, business card passing events.
I’m a bona fide introvert. What that means is that, at the end of a standard networking event, I’m exhausted and want to curl up by myself with a book for a few hours. Traditional networking was something I forced myself to do, usually by gritting my teeth, setting a simple goal like “Meet two new people and then you can go home,” and soldiering through the experience. Not so much fun.
I soon tired of those large events. Not only that, I realized that I was not getting any business through that kind of networking. Over and over again, my work came from referrals from people I knew well and cared about: former colleagues, people with shared interests, former clients. Slowly, I realized that I needed to radically shift how I thought about networking. I needed to focus more on keeping existing connections strong and less on meeting new people. I needed to go to large events only when the topic genuinely interested me.
At a large industry meeting last week, however, I once again fell into the networking trap. I had just led two sessions on the art and science of networking and felt some self-imposed pressure: I’m supposed to be an expert at this! So I pushed at a woman until I found a reason to give her my card. It felt unpleasant and I’m sure she’ll never want to reconnect.
I realized that, despite all I know about networking, I still secretly expect that I’ll gather a ton of business cards, make fantastic connections, and end up with millions of dollars in new business. I’m always disappointed and slightly guilty when that doesn’t happen. Surely, if I just did something differently, all those fantasies would come true.
I suspect that others share these feelings of disappointment and guilt. It’s time to set up different expectations for networking.
Why Do We Network?
Back to the basics: what is networking and why do we do it? Here’s what a few experts have to say.
Dennis Stevenson on Toolbox writes: “What is networking? Simply put, it is helping others. Ta Da! That’s really the whole concept.”
Whoa. Now that’s radical. No mention of sales, fantastic connections, building a marketing base, or gaining new clients. No, says Dennis. It’s about helping others.
James Clear says: “The goal of networking should be to help other people. Yes, it would be nice if they helped you out as well, but networking is a two-way street. And your side of the street is all about helping others, not asking them to help you. Asking for favors should only become a possibility once you have learned more about the person and provided some value to them.”
Wait a sec: James is saying the same thing as Dennis. Networking is all about helping others.
Maybe it’s time to really get this in our bones: networking is not about building business. It’s about helping others.
That’s a much easier expectation to hold during networking. Once we readjust, we find that networking shifts from an onerous chore to something that’s actually fun. We can stop beating ourselves up for skipping those mass events and find ways to network that fit our introverted styles.