Networking? Get Outta Here

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Almost exactly five years ago, I was playing cards with some friends and talking about business school, careers, and how to be successful (according to one of its many definitions). One of the friends in attendance, already a successful businessman (or as Jay-Z would say, a successful business, man), decided to chime in when someone mentioned their plan to accomplish their business goals and land the job of their dreams by “networking”.

Having already made his first move toward the door, on his way to conduct a 12:00am conference call, his voice of reason exclaimed:

“No, no. Networking is nothing. It’s about building relationships. Networking will result in you possessing a network that’s an inch deep and a mile wide. Relationship-building, which takes more time and genuine interest in others, will give you a circle that’s an inch wide and a mile deep. And that’s where things happen.”

This simple explanation made sense to me and I knew it complied with what I truly believed. I was forced to eat some earlier words and was provided with a new perspective. Since then, I’ve swung almost completely to the relationship-building side of things to the point where uttering the word “networking” leaves a foul taste in my mouth. Now, five years later, it’s plain to see that the vast majority of valuable friendships, mutually-beneficial business deals, and  progressive idea sharing partnerships have come from relationships built on trust and shared value rather than from shallow networking touch-points.

I don’t doubt that you have had a similar revelation; instantaneous or gradual. I think many people have and I think that this is great and a rite of passage of sorts.

But now there’s a problem.

The same businesses and careers that were built by relationships are now turning to social media and online strategies to create loosely connected networks and flimsy touch-points. A person sending an email to a business or business professional is met with a reply from the business or professional asking them to contact them via a website or preferred social networking platform. Requests to a small retail store for more information on the sizing of a clothing item are left unanswered. Words of thanks go unnoticed or simply feed a business’ ego.

The worst mistake a business or professional can make is taking the social media/online plunge and forgetting that everyone touched is a real person.

Instead of spreading yourself thin and neglecting real people in order to adopt an outside-in promotional/customer recruitment approach, blow those closest to you out of the water with your service, your level of care, and your product. Adopt on inside-out approach, wow those around you, and then look outward.

These are my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours.