Networking is touted as the best resource for professional success and personal growth. Whether you are looking for a job, professional development, business opportunities or shared-interest socializing, networking is said to be the key. But like any other key, it doesn’t work unless it clicks.
What clicks for an intellectually curious introvert like me are organized interactions that engage through knowledge (real problem solving) and sincerity. In other words, if you want to engage me, your pitch must make sense. You can’t sell me dog food if I don’t have a dog.
When I first ventured into business networking, I felt like I was trying to light a wet match in a dark cave, because the journey was filled with some frustrations. While I did meet sincere people who genuinely supported me and vice-versa, I wasn’t prepared for:
•Aggressive people who push their product/services within 90 seconds of first contact and offer evasive answers beyond their elevator pitch. They demand your immediate trust and business card and tell you they will call you soon about their product. To aggressors, you don’t need a dog to buy dog food; you need to start with the food because that’s what they’ve got.
•“Back to me” people who try too hard to be interesting without being interested in anyone else. They talk excessively about themselves without listening to anyone else, because they are fascinating to know so you need to get onboard. They brag about numbers—the number of events they attend, the number of things they do and the number of people they know. Backers never ask if you have a dog; they just start spamming you about their dog food.
•“Weary networkers” who are over the networking scene because they are meeting the same people most of the time. They recognize the value of networking, but have reached their peak; they can’t stop coming because they need to look interested for business purposes. They can tell you about numerous networking events and can accurately predict who will attend. If they hear another dog food elevator pitch, they may howl.
After attending several events, it started looking like the same tune with a different singer. Most events offered the same format, information and people. Some of them try different approaches to remove the weariness, the aggressiveness and the connection collectors, but the organizers soon learn that initially attracting people is far easier than retaining them. Some find innovative ways to encourage retention; others continue to look for the answers at the back of the book by sticking to traditional topics without soliciting attendees’ feedback to create more relevant content.
In spite of frustrations and the time commitment, networking is valuable and, ultimately, worth the efforts to search for the right organization(s) and people that click with you. To that end, I encourage diversifying your network to include:
• Organizations in your current professional/business industry
• Organizations in industries you would like to get to know better to broaden your perspective
• A group that focuses on fun around common interests
• A community service group because in order to receive, giving is a prerequisite
My brother successfully demonstrated this when he created a reciprocal network after leaving the military as an engineer and becoming a Realtor. Although he had an MBA, I had my doubts. His experience and education was based in math and engineering—and to me that was Swahili for not necessarily a people-person. He dispelled my doubts by building a network about the “home buying experience” rather than selling real estate, which resulted in record breaking sales and service awards for him. He had a sincere desire to help people and not just sell to them; his proclivity for service and relationship-building earned him overwhelming referrals and repeat business.
Great networks are built on a sincere reciprocal infrastructure stemming from relationship first and business second, which cannot be created overnight. Established networks are helpful, especially when you are experiencing challenges, because they can offer support quicker than newer connections.
With any worthwhile journey you will encounter frustrations along the way, but you shouldn’t give up entirely. Instead, continue to seek an organization that clicks with you so, through your challenges, you won’t have to experience the difference between people saying “Sure, I can help you,” or just letting their silence be more charitable than words.