Is Networking “Not Working”?

Articles / February 7, 2018

Is Networking “Not Working”?

As a small business owner I have spent a healthy amount of time investing in attending networking groups in NYC. I have gone to the free events as well as joining a few that have an admission/membership fees. The internet is awash with networking advice about how essential it is to growing your business, so I have dutifully done the merry-go-round of networking events. I always approach each gathering with optimism and look forward to engaging with other people who might be willing to start ongoing relationships that are mutually beneficial.

To Pitch or Not to Pitch?

Initially I didn’t have an elevator pitch ready as I felt that it was a little contrived and slightly forced. I just wanted to have a good conversation that might spark a connection. However, many times I felt that I was being talked “at” with a hard sell pitch being rammed down my throat between bites of crudité and Chardonnay. I came back to the office with a mountain of business cards, which I dutifully added to my contacts and connected with the new businesses on LinkedIn, but I had a sinking feeling that it wasn’t entirely beneficial.

No Tit for Tat

Recently, I have been feeling that I am only a font of knowledge, a database of the best suppliers in Manhattan. I liberally share my favorite event suppliers but come away from each business breakfast or cocktail party with a sense that there wasn’t reciprocity for my event planning business. The bulk of my business comes from referrals from events well executed and relationships that I have cultivated for over a decade. So far my networking efforts have not yielded a bumper crop of new clients.

I was curious to see if other people were experiencing the same sense of futility at these networking events. While there is a fortune of information on the best techniques for effective networking out there, I did find some content that was confirmation of what I had been experiencing.

Achievement Gets You Noticed, Not Business Cards

First up Adam Grant wrote a piece in the New York Times called, “Good News for Young Strivers: Networking is Overrated.” He states, “It’s true that networking can help you accomplish great things. But this obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.”

He maintains that you have to be already actively achieving excellence in your field to be noticed. Achievement is a magnet for investors and you will naturally gather a network of authentic connections when you are engaged in producing a high caliber of work. Be an expert in something tangible, not an expert in networking.

Nurture Existing Relationships

Maureen Henderson in an article in Forbes called “Why You Should Spend Less Time Networking” posits that networking offers diminishing returns. She says, “There comes a point—a lot sooner than you expect—when it’s more useful to nurture and deepen the connections you already have than to strategize about how to add new ones.”

She sites research done by Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford) that found ‘150’ is the maximum number of social connections that we can keep track of at once. She also raises the important point that the connections we are looking for are not distributed equitably across society.

The people that would benefit your business are sadly not attending one of these cheese and wine get-togethers. Those connections already have their own powerful networks and can be quote insular. Your much needed mentor is not out there desperately seeking a student to mold. You can’t seek them out, they need to come calling because you are doing something unique, interesting, innovative etc.

Why Traditional Networking events are Not Working

Author, Derek Coburn, wrote the book “Networking is Not working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections” after decades spent at traditional networking events that were fruitless time wasters. He puts forward an approach on how to grow and nurture a powerful network without attending these cattle call events and makes for interesting reading.

 Roadblocks to Networking Success

Raymond Wali expands on the failure of traditional networking in his HuffPost article, “5 Reasons Networking is “NotWorking.” He believes networking events are rife with superficial conversation that doesn’t move your business forward and provides no valuable contacts. He advocates for meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships, not the foisting of business cards on random strangers. Too many people are trying to “make the sale” and making the conversation all about themselves, instead of trying to listen and put others first in the conversation. People seldom follow up on connections past adding the person onto their LinkedIn network. It’s also important to only attend events in your niche/industry otherwise it is too broad a focus. Rather join a peer advisory board for a more structured agenda.

Your Network Will Be Built through Direct Peer-to-Peer Contact

Steve Tobak writing for Fortune, believes networking is a waste of time saying, “of all the loony business fads I’ve had the burden of shooting down over the years, the most overhyped and under-delivered is the networking craze.” He says that your most important business relationships will occur organically through the natural course of doing business. He sites examples of co-founders of companies who started their businesses based on existing relationships. For example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple) met at high school and worked together at Atari, Jan Koum and Brian Acton (WhatsApp) worked together at Yahoo, Matt Maloney and Mike Evans (GrubHub) worked together at etc.

Should We Ditch Networking Altogether?

Many people suggest that the traditional networking approach needs to be revamped. Usually at these events everyone is there for a different reason and there is little hope of a mutually beneficial relationship developing. Derek Coburn has a few good suggestions:

  • Host a gathering where you can control the guest list, location and outcome. The focus should not be on walking around pitching and thrusting business cards into people’s hands. Rather, find an activity that a targeted group of people all enjoy – like attending a specific sporting match or entertainment event. Maybe it’s a Poker night? This is just about a group of connections in your network getting together and having a wonderful time. Always make the invite for two people. No sales pitching, only building new connections and maintaining existing ones.
  • Professional Double Dating. Get four tickets to an event and invite a strategic partner. Ask them to bring along someone who they think you should me and you will do the same for them.
  • Reconnect with dormant connections in your CRM. Jump start old relationships that you have not engaged with for some time like former co-workers, classmates, sports team members from college days and so on. It is easy to connect with these people in a meaningful way because you have shared experiences in common.

I am not entirely sure if I will be foregoing the networking ritual just yet, but I do think these influencers have quite a few amazing points that I am going to investigate further. Steve Winwood says, “Networking is rubbish; have friends instead” –what do you think?

Let me know if you would like to have a great chat about your event planning needs in 2018. I am all ears!


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