I have a confession: I’ve been to countless business and technology networking events over the past 15 years, and I can count on one hand (with fingers left over) how many clients I’ve gotten from attending them.
Sure, I’ve met interesting people and chit-chatted about business and tech and tried to network the “right way” by making it about them and not about me, by asking them what they’re looking for, offering value, following up, etc. All of these tips are good, but as I’ve learned, they’re not sufficient.
Think about it this way: If you meet someone for the first time and talk to them for 5-10 minutes, do you really feel comfortable referring them to your clients or friends, or recommending them for a job or project? Most likely not. You simply don’t know enough about their work ethic and their values.
Conversely, if you attend networking events and are looking for a client or a job, it isn’t fair of you to ask strangers (because that’s who they really are) to vouch for you without them getting to know you first.
So what is the key to successful networking and building valuable relationships? Consistency and intimacy.
Remember back when you were in grade school and how easy it was to make friends? The reason is because you spent a lot of time (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) with the same kids. Likewise, you probably know your co-workers pretty well because you spend a lot of time with them.
How does this relate to networking events? Instead of going to 5 or 7 different groups’ events every day of the week, select one or two groups whose members or purpose resonate with you and attend their events regularly. These groups don’t have to be traditional business or networking ones; they can be based on community organizations, non-profit volunteer work, or hobbies.
The more consistently you show up, the more likely you are to see the same faces and to establish the commonality and accountability of being there. How nice it is to have people who look forward to seeing you!
Once you’ve established consistency, the next step is intimacy. By intimacy, I don’t mean that you are looking for a romantic partner. Rather, that you are looking to get to know the other people beyond the superficial.
Get past the general questions of what people do for a living, where they live, etc., and ask deeper questions about their life story, their passions, what gets them excited, what they would do if money was not a consideration, what keeps them from doing what they want to do.
Earlier this year, I joined a group called “Live Your Legend”, whose focus is to help people discover and live their passion (check for one in your area at http://www.meetup.com/Live-Your-Legend/).
I don’t attend their monthly meetings with the mindset of getting clients or networking; instead, I show up every month with the intention of getting to know the other regulars and of enjoying really good conversations.
The trust and referrals will come later on. Right now, it’s about being willing to share, to be a real person with hopes and doubts, and to be vulnerable (if you haven’t seen it, watch Dr. Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on what we gain when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable).
Consistency and intimacy certainly take more time and effort than popping into a networking event here and there, but the rewards, on both a personal and professional level, are well worth the investment.
How do you approach networking? What has worked well for you? Share in the comments below.