Every other month, someone calls me and asks me if FastHouston is a good place to come and network. So I immediately tell them about the content of our meetings: we discover and discuss new ideas and how to put them to work. Then they ask me "can I find customers there?" And at that point it's really hard NOT to say, "if what I just told you doesn't inspire you to come, then NO." I try to let them down easily, saying "what kind of customers are you looking for?" Then I find out their launching a hair salon, or a residential mortgage business, and this is heartbreaking: they are targeting people with hair, or anybody who hasn't already bought a mortgage. And at that point, I really don't want them at my meeting. I start suggesting other places for them to go.
Business networking is such a misunderstood activity. One of the very best place to learn how to do it right is at www.AskTheHeadhunter.com. Nick Corcodilos takes a very tough stand. Here's a quote from a recent newsletter.
The fact that two people share a third contact does not necessarily establish sufficient common ground or trust between them. And there is certainly no value guaranteed by the link they share. (I know someone who knows George Bush. Do you think that would get me anything from George Bush?) Of course, a diligent person could strengthen weak networking links by investing sufficient time and effort. That would be a wonderful use of social networks. But let's face it: People who rely on such networks are likely looking for a quick and easy favor. Rather than invest what it takes to build trust and value in the connection, they are more likely to move on to the next name on the list. They're not looking for quality. They're looking for a payoff by exploiting the quantity of available links.
And that's the key: quality of relationships. Having good contacts is more important than having lots of them.
Good networking has three key ingredients. First, it requires common ground. People must have something to share and a valid context in which to cultivate their mutual interests. The best place to start is your work. Identify people who do the work you do (or want to do). E-mail them. Call them. Meet them.
Second, good networking demands value. Contacting people is not enough. Investing in the relationship and creating value is what matters. What can you do to help or genuinely engage another person? How about asking honest, sincere questions about the work she does, and offering a thoughtful tip that will help her be more productive?
Third, good networking takes time. People build trust through repeated good experiences. Once I trust you, I'll draw you into my circle of friends -- and that's where job referrals come from.
The secret is not in the quantity of contacts you can make, but in the quantity of time and value you can contribute to others. That's the only way to parlay quantity into quality.
The best way to become well-connected is to meet and stay in touch with people in your business who are good at what they do. Don't go to them when you're job hunting. Establish the kind of reputation that makes them want to call you when they learn about a great job opportunity.