Both online and offline, there’s been a surge in the concept of “networks” as a marketing tool. And websites and groups have sprung up to capitalize on the phenomenon. As people clamor to build their personal networks for business, they need to be careful. I’m seeing many people waste lots of time and energy into false networks that may not net any gain.
Don’t get me wrong. Your personal network is one of the strongest marketing tools you have — especially if you’re in a B2B field. And it also works to your advantage in a B2C field causing word-of-mouth trickle down.
But the network and the relationships have to be real in order to be effective. Many of these new groups and websites develop artificial networks. It’s like most other things. People are always looking for the quick and easy way to get rich, lose weight, or win market share. And all those things take time. Developing a network of relationships is no different.
There’s a fairly new phenomenon of “speed networking”. These events should be called “speed business card exchanges” because that’s all they really are. You’re into self delusion if you think you’re coming out of one of these events with 50 meaningful business relationships. Obviously, you can use the contact info from those quick meetings to develop a relationship later with a few of the people you met. But it will still take time to develop those.
I know several people who are involved locally in a national business networking organization. And it seems that every one of them has drunk the Kool-Aid (or more accurately the Flavor-Aid) I’ve been invited to a few of the meetings and each time it felt like I was getting involved in some sort of scheme. Fostering that sort of feeling is not the best way to develop relationships.
Clearly with weekly meetings, there’s time to develop relationships. But the problem with these types of groups is that the relationships are forced and sometimes unnecessary. How can the “stock broker” and the “carpet cleaner” in the group really have a meaningful business relationship? Have you ever had this conversation?
“So you advise that I put 50% into mutual funds and 50% into bonds? OK. Now, where do you suggest I get my carpet cleaned?”
Both the stock broker and the carpet cleaner would be better off spending their time developing real relationships with other businesspeople that have customers with adjacent needs.
And then the internet makes everything easy. I see people who have hundreds of contacts on Linked In or Facebook and wonder if they feel their network is actually that deep/wide. Accepting a friend or contact on one of these sites is not equivalent to developing a relationship with them. It is a great way to manage and stay in contact with relationships you’ve already developed.
But you can grow your network online. I consider some people that I’ve never met “face-to-face” as some of my closest business allies because of the relationship we’ve had online.
Here’s the kicker. Relationships and networks are built with two things: time and trust. True networking relationships come from actually having a relationship with someone.
Like with most marketing activities, just doing something doesn’t mean that you’re making any progress. Spend time and energy developing your network. Just make sure it’s real.
And of course, the best place to network is a funeral.