I enjoy people. Any time I’ve been in a job that took me away from contact with people or detracted from me interacting with people I have instinctively moved on to positions that held more appeal. I crave connections and truly enjoy networking; hearing the stories of what brought people to this point in their lives. I’m lucky that I find it enjoyable as I know for some people it is a far more contrived and awkward exercise to go out into a group and chat about who they are, what they do, and ask for help or offer assistance.
So for me networking is a highlight in my work agenda. The challenge is not in finding the opportunities, nor forcing myself to go out and connect, I don’t struggle with how to make the most of networking opportunities, but I do struggle with managing my time, evaluating which are the best opportunities and ensuring that I keep a focus on my business.
The problem is that I don’t really like transactional networking. I don’t want to go into a conversation on the basis of “can you do something for me or can I do something for you?” I just want to get to know a person, see if our values are in line, understand their goals, their challenges and learn from their experiences. You can call it organic networking or, like my kids, you can just say I’m very chatty! Either way, it’s about making genuine connections with people that I think, in the long term, mean much more than a simple transactional interaction that often leaves you with an empty feeling if you’ve spent an hour and feel you didn’t really make any ‘useful’ connections – no referrals, no advice, no leads.
Counting leads or referrals is quantitative though and it’s easy to evaluate the use of your time when you can justify an hour or 3 of your time each month against 3 new clients, 15 sales or a new project. But if I am going to spend time just reaching out to people and see where it takes me, then quite rightly it’s possible that I could be accused of not making the best use of my time and I certainly have a challenge in evaluating the effectiveness of my networking or deciding the appropriate amount of time to dedicate to it.
But organic networking can be rewarding too. I have made some great connections by taking the time to get to know somebody properly. The power of networking is in being able to provide referrals or advice or useful leads, but that doesn’t have to be in a given instant, at a given event and in fact the only way that you can really provide any of that is by really taking the time to listen and get to know people. Unless I know what your challenges are, can I offer you advice? Can I honestly go home and tell a friend about your product or service from the exchange of a business card? Can I genuinely recommend you without understanding your core values?
I may be simply a chatty person but I’m not going to apologize for this particular trait because it has opened many doors throughout my life, brought me some amazing friendships and business contacts, afforded me some great opportunities and enriched me as a person. Now, before I go and enjoy another insightful chat at the next networking event, I’d better take care of my taxes, invoicing, business planning and a few other less inspiring, but equally important, areas of my business!