OK, don’t ditch the concept – it’s important to meet people in your industry to collaborate with, but here’s why the word “networking” just doesn’t work for me – and how I’ve replaced it. I’m a terrible networker. Awful. In fact, I actively avoid events with “networking” in the title or description. The idea of hanging out in a room full of people who definitely all want something from each other professionally sort of terrifies me.
I don’t want to become someone’s “contact”, I don’t want a zillion business cards I’ll never use and I definitely don’t want to force a connection with someone based on what they do professionally.
The word “contact” in itself feels very exploitative. We’re people, not walking opportunities.
If you ask me, this is a much nicer way to connect with people! My gals Klaire and Nova! Image © Sarah Morris Photography
Here’s how many networking events I’ve attended have gone. Someone has approached me, introduced themselves, told me all about what they do and handed me a business card, before moving on to the next target. I haven’t been left with a sense of who they are or why I would want to work with them in the future, just an elevator pitch, a firm handshake and a business card.
I know, that all sounds very negative, but I don’t like networking because I’ve found something even better to replace it – and it’s so very simple and intuitive that it requires almost no effort on my part whatsoever. Instead of going to networking events, I go to industry parties. I talk to people who seem nice on Twitter. Instead of looking for the people I think will be important or will be able to help me in the future, I talk to the people I like and click with. Instead of calling them “contacts” I call them friends and colleagues. I let the relationships develop organically – and we’re all better off for it.
You might be asking yourself what the difference is – if I go to an industry party, surely it’s my intention to meet some professional contacts. That’s true, but it’s more about the nature of that intention. I don’t go to industry parties to see what everyone else there does and see whether they’re worth talking to, I go to have fun and meet like-minded people. The word “networking” implies a clear intention – to add someone to your professional network. That intention can skew the whole interaction so that it suddenly feels very uncomfortable, forced and formal.
With the lovely Samantha at Veilbash in 2012 – image by Sacco & Sacco Photography
When I go to a party, or go on Twitter, or go for a coffee with someone I’ve clicked with, rather than going home with a hundred business cards that end up gathering cookie dust at the bottom of my handbag, I go home having had an awesome conversation with somebody I get on with. I can’t tell you how many amazing friendships and business partnerships have blossomed that way. If I like someone, I don’t take their card, I take their social media info right away. I follow them and I follow it up.
So how does simply making friends replace professional networking? Well, easy. I could have the ear of the most important person on the planet, but if we don’t click, we don’t click. I could make friends with the gals at my local salon, start a working relationship based on trust, shared tastes and enthusiasm and support – the relationship grows organically because we like each other and we start to work together regularly because we know what makes the other tick. The combined forces of our brand make for excellent projects which lead to wider opportunities for both of us, and we include each other because we trust each other to do a good job. Neither of us may be the most important people in the room, but we’re a great fit for each other and we build each other up.
To me, that’s infinitely better than an awkward five minute audience with someone I think could give me a leg up.
So don’t ditch the idea of socialising with your industry colleagues, but don’t walk into a room wondering who the right people to talk to might be and how they can help you advance your career. Follow your gut and your heart and everything will fall perfectly into place.