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?