Why You Should Stop Networking & Start Making Friends
I've always hated networking events. The premise always seemed awkward and ugly to me. An event held so that strangers can meet and attempt to sell services or products to each other.
Oh, I know there's more to it. Networking is also for learning about other businesses, forming partnerships, recommending others and all that. But the "What can you do for me?" subtext of all interactions that take place at such events usually creates a soulless, un-fun and exceedingly uncomfortable experience.
So, like so many others, I dreaded these events and never accomplished what I was supposed to by attending them.
When social media came along and I was introduced to the concept of giving in order to build relationships online, I began to realize that I could finally be good at networking. I was much more comfortable approaching strangers online to thank them, share the information they were promoting and share useful, non-promotional information with them. None of these actions involved trading business cards with the hope of getting a business call later.
Under the nurturing incubation of social media and with little thought for how they might benefit me in the future, these new relationships grew and thrived. And months or years later, many of these relationships led to business opportunities that I hadn't even considered when I began.
The magic of how all of this has worked out, never ceases to inspire awe in me.
I've recently been reading Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's book "Delivering Happiness" and I came accross a part that echos my experience online.
"If you are able to figure out how to be truly interested in someone you meet," Hsieh says, "with the goal of building up a friendship instead of trying to get something out of that person, the funny thing is that almost always, something happens later down the line that ends up benefitting either your business or yourself personally."
"I don't really know why this happens or why it works but it seems that the benefit from getting to know someone on a personal level usually happens 2-3 years after you started working on building the relationship," Hsieh continues. "And it's usually something that you could not have possibly predicted would have happened at the beginning of the relationship."
As an event industry professional, this statement (by Tony Hsieh, a giant in online marketing who led Zappos from a shaky beginning to its purchase by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion) gives me great hope. Event professionals create the circumstances for people from varying locations to meet in person and build personal relationships that drive business.
As a business woman, the statement validates my, less formal, approach to networking and explains why it has been so beneficial to me. Hsieh's estimated time frame of 2-3 years before benefits of your new friendships begin to take shape, also rings true for me.
I can't tell you how many times I shared my worry with friends and family that the hours I spent implementing my strategy on social media were for naught. Deep down, though, I knew something positive would eventually happen, and thankfully, so did they.
Every Relationship is Valuable
But others, told me I was doing it wrong. They said I should only connect with people in my niche and work at building relationships with high-status thought leaders.
Though I did meet brilliant people in my field who turned out to be great friends, I also built relationships with folks who were completely unrelated to the events industry, many of whom supported me and kept me going when I felt like giving up. These experiences convinced me that every relationship is valuable. In fact, the more I think about it, I find the belief that one can clearly see and assess how a relationship might be of value in the future arrogant, narrow-minded and self-defeating.
So I will continue to make friends, rather than network. And when anyone asks me for career advice, I will refer them to the words of Tony Hsieh:
"Stop trying to "network" in the traditional sense and instead just try to build up the number and depth of your friendships, where the friendship itself is its own reward. The more diverse your set of friendships are, the more likely you'll derive both personal and business benefits from your friendships later down the road."
(Photo by makelessnoise)
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