Having a network is one of the best things you can have, I think. The emotional and practical support that comes from close friends and family is a precious possession, but the benefits of a wide, diverse social network are enormous.
And I say social network on purpose (soz Zuckerburg but you don’t have complete ownership of the idea). I subscribe entirely to the view that a network is useless if it’s not a series of connections that are friendly and fun. It’s why I find some people’s approach to ‘networking events’ hilarious. Get as many business cards as possible. Prepare an elevator pitch. Ensure your company name is visible on your badge and you get round as many people as possible in the room.
Not for me. At events, as at life, I look for new friends. Hello, new friends, I say, as I approach surprisingly shy businesspeople. How are you? What brings you here? What do you love and hate? Where can we find areas of mutual interest or even passion? Let’s have a wine. I forget to move on and realise I’ve only spent time with one person or group… and they aren’t likely to buy anything from me or give me a job. Oh no!
And it pays off. I have met several friends (let’s not say ‘contacts’) through networking events and conferences and social channels, who may not have been ‘useful’ to me at the time but have provided me with something fantastic in due course: job opportunities, interesting ideas, hot leads, press exposure, top advice and, of course, other new friends who can do the same.
If you treat every business event as if your best friend has just brought some of *their* closest friends to the pub and was excited to introduce you to them, you’ll approach it like the fun, long-term opportunity it should be… and get more out of it.