Have you ever met a businessperson who says ‘I hate networking’? It’s a strange thing, isn’t it? For me, networking has always been right at the heart of the way I do business. Having the chance to meet new and interesting people (some of whom will be able to help me grow my business, some who maybe won’t) – is what gets me out of bed in the morning. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say it is actually what I do for a living – getting out there, meeting people, connecting them and sharing ideas. It’s the fun part of what I do, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Beyond the superficial
But maybe those people who say they hate networking do have a point. Ask the average businessperson what they think of when you say ‘networking event’ and the chances are they’ll mention stale sandwiches, warm drinks and awkward silences. Come to think of it, I’m not a big fan of those kinds of events either. Too often networking events are simply a chance to swap business cards, to tick the box on your to-do list that says ‘business development’, and move on. These kinds of traditional networking events – and I’m only talking about the ones that aren’t done well here – there are plenty that are great – are often just an environment where you get only the most superficial impression of who someone really is. It’s a little like speed dating, but with the fun taken out.
A new approach
So how do I approach networking? Personally, I think the first thing to do is to challenge your definition of what networking actually means. Take it out of those poorly air-conditioned conference rooms and instead think of all of those random encounters you have, every day, with the fascinating people you meet in the course of your life. How many of the people who you met today did you actually fully engage with? How many of them did you feel like you actually started to forge a deep connection with? Never mind finding out what their business is – how many of them did you ask about what really drives them? What is their passion – what are their most fundamental needs and the things that really get them excited?
I’m willing to bet that – for most of the people you’ve spoken to in the course of the day – you don’t know the answers to any of these questions. You might know their job title, the business their company does – and that will be about it. I really believe that there is a huge amount of potential being lost here. Just imagine what you could achieve if you went beyond the details on someone’s business card, and really got to know them. Find out about what they dreamed of doing when they were kids, or what they do when they’re not in the office. For me, it all boils down to this idea of doing business with people, not companies. Networking effectively is fundamental to this, because it’s in these kinds of encounters where the deep connections are formed.
An interconnected world
As technology transforms the way we do business, creating an interconnected, wireless world, this kind of agile, flexible approach to building new relationships has become more and more fundamental. Customers and clients now expect solutions that are tailored to them, specifically built around their needs. And the only way that you will ever find out what those needs are is through building relationships.
And expanding this out, I really do believe that we all have a huge opportunity here as business people. For me, technology and our changing business environment has put a real focus on how we build relationships – we all need to now start taking a more agile, global approach to the networks we build. That is an enormous opportunity – think back to that great lost potential contained within all the people you met today – and add to it the possibilities of the millions of people who you can now reach directly through technology.
So, talk to someone new tomorrow – it doesn’t matter how you reach him or her – and your business will thank you for it.