Business is about people. Expanding your network is a fundamental element to business success. But networking makes a lot of business people feel dirty. It screams aggressive salesman and it can be like picking up someone at a bar.
Networking is traditionally thought of as making as many connections as possible. Don’t waste time on people who don’t provide obvious value to you. Meet as many new people whenever you can. Keep the conversation focused. Minimize unnecessary meetings. Work the room. Keep the chitchat to a minimum. Have a polished elevator pitch by the ready and use it often. Come off confident and successful. Always position your company in the best light. Think about how people can help you. Taking this approach will yield a lot of connections over time and you’ll probably enjoy some success.
There is, however, another way to connect with people. The alternative to traditional networking is to make fewer connections and develop more relationships. Have lunch with someone you know. Spend a lot of time on chitchat. Talk about family. Skype in your pajamas. Ask people what they are working on. Give honest feedback. Listen and empathize. Only talk about yourself if you are asked. Talk to friends of friends. Pay attention. Ask questions. Be humble and honest. Don’t pitch people. Let people pitch you. Be helpful. Make them laugh. Don’t make up stuff.
The second way to network won’t yield nearly as many connections. It takes too much time to meet people en masse. But businesses aren’t built on connections. Businesses are built on relationships. The easier a connection is to make, the less valuable it is. Boasting about how many followers you have on Twitter may make you feel good, but vanity metrics are worthless. That’s not to say you can’t develop relationships online. You can, but the same principles apply. What you can’t do is form true relationships with 10,000 people. You don’t have the time or attention. Developing true relationships take time and are hard to make, but are exponentially more valuable.
People in relationships help each other. The irony about meeting fewer people, yet developing stronger relationships, is that your useful network is actually bigger. Your useful network is the number of people who can help you move your business forward in a meaningful way. The three people who really care about you are much more likely to connect you with almost all of the people in their network. With a single relationship, you probably have access to hundreds of people who are willing to help you. With a handful of solid relationships, you are once removed from thousands of people who can help you. Whereas, thousands of followers on Twitter will probably only give you a handful of people willing to help in a meaningful way. Recommendations, favors, sponsorships, sales, partnerships, testimonials and investors come from relationships. Unreturned emails, scheduling conflicts, and unfulfilled meeting promises come out of connections.
I’ll take one relationship over 100 connections any day.