Networking Just to Network

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560668_gardening_series You’ve probably heard the old saying, "Dig your well before your thirsty." It was the title of a great book on networking by Harvey Mackay.

I’ve found, though, that many people use it to justify the idea of "networking just to network". They network without any specific goal in mind, other than to grow their network, meet new people and build relationships.

Look, I’m not going to say that there’s anything "wrong" with that, per se — it’s just such an unproductive use of one’s time.

Networking doesn’t have to be a separate activity, done for its own sake. You can meet new people, build relationships and grow your network all in the course of actually getting things done — either for yourself or helping other people. In fact, one of the things we learned in researching The Virtual Handshake is that actually helping people accomplish something, rather than just talking or "bouncing ideas around", is a far more effective way to build stronger relationships in less time.

A recent question on LinkedIn Answers really drove this point home for me. Thomas Clifford asked:

What’s your networking goal?

Do you have a goal in mind when you network?

There are so many different types of networking goals, I thought it would be helpful and inspiring to others if they had some goals they could compare their goals to.

The responses included some very admirable, lofty sounding goals, such as being connected to people around the world, helping those less fortunate, connecting people to achieve success, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe networking can do all those things. But I believe those things are most effectively accomplished as a side effect of going after very specific, concrete results. Here’s my reply:

I’m fascinated by how broad and "30,000-foot" the responses here are. I’m a believer in the "dig your well before you’re thirsty" motto, but I also believe that the best networking takes place as simply a natural course of doing business: spending a little extra time getting to know your customers, mingling at an event where you’re speaking, etc. I pretty much never network "just to network".

When I’m actively "networking", as a discreet activity, it’s for a very specific, timely purpose, such as:
1. Increase opportunities for speaking engagements.
2. Increase readership to one of my sites.
3. Build my platform for a book or product launch.
4. Find solution partners to increase my organization’s operational capacity.
5. Look for specific publicity opportunities, i.e., in a particular channel (e.g., TV) or with a specific publication (e.g., FSB).

Now in the process, I do all the "networking" things — give first, build relationships and grow my network for the long term. But I choose where and how to spend my time based on my immediate specific business objectives. More than enough "well-building" takes place in the process, without networking just for networking’s sake.

Being deliberate, focused and systematic about your approach to networking doesn’t take away from the fun of it, nor the humanity of it. What it does is make you more effective in less time, and that’s immensely satisfying.

The problem is that many people drink the "networking Kool-Aid". They just go on faith that if they keep networking, eventually something good will come of it. And eventually something does, and they use that to justify whatever networking methods they’ve been using, never realizing that they could be far more effective using a different approach, while still having fun and building real relationships.

Frankly, if you don’t have more business than you can handle, shouldn’t you at least open yourself up to the possibility that maybe there’s a better approach than what you’re currently doing?

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  1. Thanks, Scott, for sharing my question to your readers.

    As a reminder, using the LinkedIn “Answers” section can be a great tool to help fine-tune one’s networking goal.

    Creating the one “perfect” question forces one to really think hard about the type of answers that will be generated. This then forces one to ask why they are asking what they are asking. Ideally, it’s in alignment with your networking goals.

    Think hard about the answer you want then rewind to create the right question that will provoke the answer you’re looking for.

    Thanks again…keep up the great work!


  2. I think that’s true; sometimes the “answer” should be the starting point. The “questions” are the road map and tactics to get there – the means to the end. In the journey/destination model, the problem is the constant – the light at the end of the tunnel to be focused on; but the solutions are variable and depend on strategy. And what makes the whole process – through networking – so exciting, is the dynamic nature of dialog itself, constantly revealing new answers – the paths to the proverbial “light”.

  3. Reading this very early in the morning recalls to my mind the saying that happiness is a journey not a destination – and this is a model I think stands in well for creating friendships and relationships. A shared project, even a school project, will bring people together.

    However, what do you do when your target audience is unacquainted with and 7,000 miles away from you? I have a specific purpose in mind: I am looking for work at the senior levels of public relations. I am digging my well now before I am thirsty in mid-2009, and I have been digging since February 2007 with almost zero success.

    In my days back home, prior to The Internet, networking meant pressing the flesh. It meant sharing a project. It meant knowing what your contact looked like without having to resort to a photo. It meant being involved in the greater community and it meant community building. It also meant word-of-mouth as the community recognised one’s contribution, which is how I build my client base. As a young consultant in PR at the time, I attached myself to an advertising association; became a board member; and actively participated/built fund-raising events. I was invited into other societies as a result of these actions as well, expanding my circle of influence.

    Sadly, for me, many of these people with whom I built communities in my younger days are no longer with me. Some never got plugged in.

    I just do not see the possibility to achieve the old level of inter-connectivity on/across The Internet. I cannot meet my “e-Posse” for coffee at a local Starbucks or at the local AMA/PRSA. And I did not read the marketing section of the WSJ yesterday either. The shovel just does not reach the land, and I remain separated from my goal by a large continental divide.


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