I Don’t Want to be Networked!

24 September, 2007

A few days ago I received a message via Facebook from someone asking if they could “network with me over a coffee”. And I realised that the awful word ‘networking’ (which isn’t strictly a verb, by the way) had reached the ‘tipping point’, where an expression escapes its original user base and starts being picked up by everyone.

Anyway I didn’t reply. Had the person suggested meeting for a coffee, or chatting over a coffee, I would’ve done. But anyone whose motivation for meeting me is so transparently ‘business-only’ isn’t going to get a very warm response. It got me thinking about how what used to be called ‘social’ evenings are now known as ‘networking’ evenings, reversing the normal process by which you got to know people first and then moved onto business if you established some common ground. If you didn’t establish any common ground, no problem, at least you’d met someone you could go for a beer with some time. Now it’s “Can we do business? No? OK, I don’t want to know you.”

It happened to me just last week, when someone approached me and, before even finding out who I was or what I did, pressed his business card on me and began talking about wholesale kitchen equipment. Whoa there!

We all have to ‘network’ at some point during our working week/month, so here are a few tips to make the process more enjoyable and fruitful for us all…

  • Change your mindset – you’re not networking, you’re socialising!
  • We all know you’ve got a product or service to sell, but most of us like to be ‘chatted up’ first!
  • Get to know someone first before handing over a business card – you may run out of cards later and then meet someone you can really do business with.
  • Remember it’s easier to talk business with someone you’ve got to know personally than it is to talk business straight away.
  • Vary your approach – the standard hello who are you what do you do routine quickly gets boring. Scott Ginsberg, “The Guy with the Nametag”, has a website with lots of useful articles about how to make yourself more interesting and approachable at www.hellomynameisscott.com
  • Find out what the other person does before launching into an epic monologue about your business. If you sell cigarettes and your new ‘friend’ is an oncologist, you just blew that relationship!
  • If people want to know more about your company, they’ll ask. If they don’t ask, don’t tell them.
  • Focus on the conversation in hand, even if it seems uninteresting. Don’t look around the room for someone more interesting while someone is talking to you!
  • Spending 10 minutes each with 3 interesting people is probably more worthwhile than 30 minutes running around getting 30 business cards.

In short, don’t be like the guy who buttonholed me in a hotel bar in Johannesburg a few years ago with the following introduction:

“Hi, I’m Bill from Chicago, it’s great to meet you and I hope we can do business together. Here’s my card – I export grain from the US to Africa.”

Well Bill, it’s great to meet you too but if you’d bothered to observe the usual social niceties first you’d have discovered I work for a travel software company in the UK and thus have no interest in grain exporting between the US & Africa. Or anywhere else for that matter!

3 Responses to “I Don’t Want to be Networked!”

  1. Thanks for the link love!

  2. Gavin Says:

    Hi again
    Interesting that I should read your comments today after having run a business networkign session as part of a managers meeting for a multi national.

    A number of delegates commented on the “negative connotations” of the word networking and how, int heir organisation it had become sononomous with career progression and “ar*e licking”

    I ‘ll try and forward your post on to them as it sums up what I was trying to get across. I also think that your comments help to make it easier for people because “having a chat” in order to get to know other people within the organisation is much less intimidating than “networking”

    Keep up the interesting and thought provoking posts.

  3. leveragethis Says:

    Yes, “having a chat” or “going for a few beers” are much nicer ways of describing the process! Like you say, “networking” adds unnecessary pressure to the proceedings – stick people together in a room with plenty of booze & let nature take its course 🙂

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