I’ve seen a rash of thought-expert pieces lately on the art of networking. Some of them are quite smart, like this piece on double-opt-in email introductions that I begrudgingly loved, or this one on getting to the point from Startup Factory’s Chris Heivly.
Others are straight garbage. Not naming names.
I say “begrudgingly loved” about the former because I’m not a huge fan of people telling other people how to behave, especially when it comes to etiquette in the entrepreneurial pursuits. We’re a breed of “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” — yet we still get all huffed when someone wants to get on our calendars without having jumped through the proper hoops.
Yeah, I know there’s etiquette to this game, and I know there’s a fine line between aggressive and douchebag. I’m also aware of the fact that being on the receiving end of everyone’s meeting request is a hassle. I get about two dozen cold business emails a day and another handful of cold networking type emails on top of that. Whatever. First world problems.
One of the reasons I started ExitEvent was to give all entrepreneurs, from beginner to serial, a chance to network amongst themselves unshackled from topic, cause, or sponsor, either online or in person via the Startup Social.
But the Social, the monthly agenda-free, entrepreneur-and-investor-only, free-beer-fueled event, was never about networking. In that I mean it was never about collecting business cards and writing awkward follow-up emails the next day.
It was and still is about relationships.
In this era of “networking tools” — which in my day meant something completely different — building and maintaining personal relationships is itself a dying art.
Furthermore, there’s no magic bullet or “six closely-guarded secrets” for maintaining a decent relationship with another human being.
The good news is that it isn’t hard. But in spite of what you might have been told, having a robust online social network is probably more of a hurdle than a benefit.
At this past Monday’s Startup Social, held for the first time in Cary, at the newly-opened Fortnight Brewing Company brewpub, just over 100 entrepreneurs and investors gathered to do nothing more than down a free Fortnight brew and chat to whomever was there about whatever was on their mind.
Oh. There. That’s the magic bullet. You have to show up.
Anyway, I was talking to a founder whom I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the last year, both in and out of the Startup Social. He asked me something about LinkedIn and do I keep my profile up to date, and in my answer I wound up confessing my social strategy.
“The truth is,” I said, “I’m completely lazy when it comes to social networking. I don’t have a lot of Facebook friends and it’s still too many. I don’t follow a lot of people on Twitter and it’s still too many. I keep LinkedIn to people I know for the most part, but sometimes one of my contacts will come up in an email update and I’ll be like ‘Who the **** is that?'”
On the other side, I’m actually totally social (as one might suspect). I really like maintaining relationships with people I like. I like working with people I like. I like helping people I like. And when I need help, I go to people I like.
I can’t like you if I don’t know you. And I can’t know you if all I know is pictures of your food or what your colleagues say about you in those fake LinkedIn recommendations.
I like organic networking. And all it really takes for this is to be genuine. You kind of have to care about other people, which is kind of a pain in the ass. You definitely have to help people, and not just when you get some traction, but from the beginning.
You shouldn’t choose your network by the cool-soundingness of people’s titles, how upwardly mobile they seem, or how much they can or might be able to do for you.
Seriously, some of my best friends are idiots.
You should go with your gut. Your gut knows.
Ideally, if I’m going to get anywhere in this world, I want to be successful with people I like. Now, I’ve been successful with people I don’t like, and I’ve failed with people I like a lot. If I have to choose (and sometimes, you have to choose), I’d much rather fail with people I respect and enjoy spending my time with.
These days, I just plain choose not to work with people I don’t care for. That’s not a big a deal as it sounds, because I get on with all kinds of people, probably 99% of the people I meet.
But that 1% — man, the discomfort just outweighs the potential for gain.
So network, yes, go out and meet all the people you can. But for the love of all that is holy, give them a reason to want to talk to you again and find the reasons why you want to talk to them.
In other words, don’t network to network. Network with the intent to build relationships. Don’t collect contacts or followers or “friends.” Collect relationships.
Once that’s the case, all your methods will be acceptable to the people who matter. The rest of them, if they won’t give you the time of day, well, did you really want to owe them something anyway?
That’s ultimately where I want the Startup Social to be. And I can’t guarantee you’ll get a lot out of it the first time you go (although that happens), I can guarantee that if you keep coming, have genuine conversations, remember people’s names, and smile the next time you see them, you’re on your way to some excellent relationships.
And believe me, they will eventually produce gold.