Networking feels like a yucky word, but we all have (and love!) our networks. Your mindset around networking can be hugely helpful in not only enjoying the whole thing more, but getting better results from your efforts.
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 Zuck, 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. NETWORK HARD!
Not for me. At events, as at life, I look for new friends. (In Glasgow we say a stranger is just a friend you huvnaue met yet.) 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 in that precise moment, 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 are impatient, like me, you might find this to be too much of a long game. But of course, the years between meeting the Creative Director of Kantar (for example), and getting a dream job at the same organisation, were not spent sitting on my bottom doing nothing. In fact, with my new found feminist friend, I had someone who happily chatted to me about promotions, other opportunities and of course cider. And at the same time, friends I knew from university might be calling about freelance writing. Acquaintances made on Twitter could be helping me connect with brands who needed comms or help with a Kickstarter campaign. That kind of thing.
So it‘s not a waiting game unless you do it once and stop. And it won‘t feel disappointing if you attend events without a short-term, overly specific business purpose in mind. (The competitive side of me quite likes the idea that ‘make a new wee friend’ will be easier to achieve and tick off the list than sell 5 reports or whatever…)
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.