When does networking become not working? It’s an interesting question. And one which really bothers me as the number of conferences, forums, seminars and workshops devoted to startups and entrepreneurship continue to grow.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for any up and coming startup or aspiring contemporary entrepreneur trying their luck pitching their ideas and seeking mentors on how they and their ideas can be successful. I just feel that there is too much hyper-activity around these kinds of events which promise much, but in the end deliver little of what you actually need.
If you happen to follow me on Medium or regularly read this blog, you probably already know that I am on a (long) break from social media. With the exception of LinkedIn of course. Which is inherently less likely to disrupt and distract you.
But I often think I should quit that too. Why? Well, watching my feed creates more negative feelings like sorrow and frustration than positive.
Networking as just hyper-activity
The reason for that has nothing to do with any envy or jealously of what some contact I know may be doing or achieving. That’s the good stuff. 🙂 No, it’s entirely to do with the fact that my LinkedIn feed seems to be full of posts from those aforementioned conferences, expos and fora.
And having been there (a lot) and done that (a lot), I simply can’t refrain from saying that all this hyper activity is bad for business. Not only will it not help your business at all (or only minimally at best), but it will actually harm it in several different ways.
How might that be? Easy, try these:
- a lack of focus
- having less time to work on what really matters
- spending money without any tangible ROI
I could go on. But you get the idea.
I’ll never forget that fact that I know of and continue to see so many huge efforts being made by so many people which finally had or have either zero return or in fact negative. From Athens’ Comdex event to Hannover’s CeBIT. Then there’s San Francisco’s CloudBeat and Barcelona’s glamourous MWC, and London’s ICE and Las Vegas’ HR Tech. All are prestigious events but who reaps the benefit?
Who reaps the benefit?
The story always reads the same. Charismatic speakers, impressive booths, disruptive products and prototypes, as well as the “unparalleled” networking opportunities.
The thing is, at the end of the day, despite all the excitement, energy, resources, attention, effort and focus put into them by participant, the expected results simply never come. Or they disappoint you. They are, in effect, the Super Bowl commercials of the tech startup industry. I think that going to such events as a startupper, entrepreneur or as an aspiring entrepreneur, is somewhat similar to working with PR agencies. A lot of hype and fluff but then the only thing that the event organizers can guarantee when it’s over is their invoice to you at the end of the month. And a little note which says “See you next year!”, if you’re lucky.
Usually it’s at this point that a realization or revelation should set in. Derek Coburn had such a moment and wrote an excellent book on it, called “Networking is Not Working”. Somewhere along the line it’s so easy to lose the “why”, the reason that you are networking. Coburn set it down like this:
“So why was I networking? It started with the desire to build my client base and generate more business. Then it graduated to wanting to replicate the mutually rewarding relationships I had developed naturally. When I began using my connections to benefit my clients, with the intention of becoming more of a resource than a vendor or service provider, I discovered I could accomplish all of those things in a more meaningful and lasting way. I would now network in order to provide solutions and add more value for my existing clients.”
And I would say this same “revelation” holds true for aspiring entrepreneurs and startup co-founders. Because what you need to do is focus on becoming the go-to resource for your customers. If you give them more value and solve their problems, then they will come. And they will stay with you.
Eliminate waste and go lean
For me this all ties in with going lean on going home. Eliminating waste wherever possible. And that goes for product development and lean startup working methodology through to lean investment strategy. There’s a whole other interesting post dedicated to the latter in which I describe in detail the Starttech Ventures philosophy of MVIF, or Minimum Viable Investment Framework. Feel free to check it out.
What I’m trying to say in short is this: Mind the gap between networking and not-working. And above all, give your two most previous resources, time and money, the respect they deserve.