Recently, a client asked me for advice on a networking scenario she was navigating. In short, my client had been “given the opportunity” to network with an industry “influencer”.
When I asked for more details as to what exactly this form of “networking” entailed, she explained that she and this “influencer” had met at a conference. The extremely friendly and seemingly helpful influencer told her to keep in touch after the fact, because she believed in supporting other brand new business owners.
Fast forward multiple months, and the “influencer” now regularly asks my client to “trade services for networking opportunities”; meaning, she asks my client to perform work for free, in exchange for a vague promise to talk her up to “other industry influencers”. As she was speaking to me, my client expressed that she felt like she was being forced to grovel at the feet of the influencer, just because that woman was an industry “it” girl, and was afraid of repercussions that would effect her reputation if she parted ways with this arrangement.
In an industry such as online entrepreneurship, these sort of “networking relationships” are extremely common, and exactly as fragile/volatile as they sound.
Networking, at it’s core, is the cultivation and development of valuable interpersonal connections, arguably on both a professional and personal level- an acknowledgement that each party is building their business (or their professionalism), and a willingness to acknowledge that the person with whom you are networking is part of a larger ecosystem than you. True networking is a long-term investment, rather an a short-sighted, or short-term means to an end.
Therefore, networking with a mindset that the other party is beneath you is the antithesis of true networking-a fool’s errand.
Viewing networking as something larger than you requires the humility to see your network with a long-term perspective. It requires a willingness to invest in a greater picture than what exists at the present moment, because as networks evolve and grow, so too does the “political landscape” of an industry. True networking requires a certain willingness to invest in the relationship, with no expectations attached.
In the legal world, most lawyers are trained to focus on networking. This means most of us are regularly attending networking events, continually expanding our network (I know, the mental image of a room full of lawyers sounds like a party, right?) .
Prior to beginning my own practice, there were certain attorneys who, in a networking setting, considered themselves too high to network with others. You know, the types who you have to re-introduce yourself to, over and over….and over again. I also worked in an industry that was volatile in nature, with incredible ups and downs. I began working in that industry in one of the worst recessions in recent years, and left right before the market began recovering. What this meant, on a professional level? There were many shakeups in the legal world. Many attorneys who had worked comfortably in their large firms, who had taken no time to expand their network, suddenly found themselves desperate. It was incredible to see the changes that could occur in the span of just a few years, and the common corollary between those who were able to land on their feet, and those who flailed: the strength of their network.
In the online business world, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that networking can be treated transactionally; trading this for that. For example, requiring a service in exchange for an introduction. In this industry, most of your industry peers’ “storefronts” are displayed on social media with splashy marketing, and oftentimes, a “K” after someone’s name means that they are considered an industry “it girl”.
However, industries fluctuate and change, and someone who may be an industry “it girl” today has no security that the same will remain true. No one watches your content and invests in your message as closely as you do, which means, in an ever-evolving landscape, this hierarchy mindset is a house of cards. When a shift occurs, and you’ve treated your networking transactionally, the cards fall.
Integrity recognizes integrity, and investing in true networking, keeping it at the forefront of your mind as you continue to build your business may be the difference between success and stagnation. Networking is a two-way street: true networking does not require groveling or trading free services because of someone’s perceived status in a house of cards hierarchy. Similarly, it is not about you: it is about your humble long-term investment in your connections.