Making Business Networking Work for You
“The old adage is wrong,” a professor at my business school would say. “It’s not about who you know; it’s about who knows you.”
He would go on to posit that a few deep connections with people who truly know and trust your character can be more valuable than dozens of industry acquaintances who recognize your friendly face at quarterly events.
Even today, years later, that advice liberates me from the pressure of attending every mixer, meetup, conference, and industry event possible. It has empowered me to hone the focus of my networking efforts.
Likely, no one would deny the potential benefits of business networking. At the same time, many of us struggle to find the time and motivation to devote to it. Even though we know it is of some value, we do not know where to place it in our long list of competing priorities. We all juggle work, home, family, extended family, friends, community involvement, hobbies, etc. The double-edged sword of our world is that we can do virtually anything we want, but we cannot do everything we want.
What if, for some of us, the value of business networking comes from quality, not quantity?
If you find this thought encouraging, like I did, it could be because of your personality. It seems that industry events are often designed for extroverts, to whom a room full of people feels invigorating. To an introvert, chatting small talk with one stranger after the next can feel overwhelming. That feeling can then defeat the purpose of even going, especially if you do not feel like you presented your best self.
That is why, over time, I have gotten better about honing the focus of my own participation in professional networking opportunities. A one-on-one lunch or coffee meeting not only feels much more enjoyable to me; I have come to realize it can yield more fruitful results as well. This does not mean that I never attend larger events. It just means that I prioritize my efforts to align with my personality. I now see conferences more as a means for continuing education and hearing about current trends, and less as a once-a-year opportunity to meet as many people in an organization as possible. That shift in perspective has personally helped me a lot.
A very successful professional commented recently on the value of meeting with someone regularly and repeatedly. She said that a simple lunch meeting with the same person, once a quarter for a few years, can build an incredibly strong relationship.
Seeing someone on multiple occasions also provides valuable data points that are hard to attain otherwise. You start to see patterns. Is this person timely or fashionably late? More right-brained or left-brained? It takes time to really get to know someone. And likewise, it takes time for others to get to know you. But, in a one-on-one, I feel much more confident about my ability to display my authentic self than I do small-talking in a hotel ballroom. I hope that as like-minded professionals get to truly know me, fruitful opportunities may occur.
If business networking has always seemed a burden, maybe instead of signing yourself up for every industry event you can find, perhaps it makes more sense to focus on developing quality relationships with fewer people, and spend more time and energy investing in those.