Source: Donaldson Brothers, Five Points, N.Y. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Networking is one of those things that we all just accept as an essential part of running a business.
There’s no doubt that networking can be useful in generating leads and meeting influential people in your industry.
But are there cases where networking is actually a waste of time?
It may come as a surprise, but the answer is definitely “yes”!
If you are sacrificing other aspects of your business for the sake of networking, it’s time for a little self-reflection.
Are your efforts returning positive benefits for you or your company? Or are you spending valuable resources–time, money, energy—for little or no return?
Here are five tips to ensure that you don’t waste your time on unproductive networking.
1. Could Your Time Be Better Spent?
Wining and dining industry connections and potential clients can be a lot of fun—but is it going to result in sales?
If you find that a lot of your networking efforts never seem to come to fruition, perhaps it’s time to sharpen your sales or communication skills. Or, perhaps you’d be better off investing in your team, or focusing on your current clients in order to build long-term relationships.
Sometimes, we can get caught up in the glamor of socializing and put off important work in developing our offering or listening to what our customers are saying.
Not all networking is a waste of time. It’s simply a matter of finding the right balance. There are ways to improve the efficiency of your networking. For example, getting in touch with key individuals via social media and organizing coffee or drinks before attending an event will be far more fruitful than simple showing up cold.
2. Don’t Let Networking Blind You to Your Company’s Actual Problems
Be clear on your reasons for networking. Are you trying to attract more clients? Do you want more exposure for your company? Do you have a specific issue that you need help to solve?
If profits are flagging, investigate the underlying source of the problem before you make assumptions. Networking can’t fix everything.
Could a lull in sales be due to terrible UX design on your website, or an ill-thought out marketing strategy? Perhaps there’s a problem with your team, or with your sales approach?
If you spend all your time at conferences and events, you may be out of touch with the day-to-day operations of your business—and absent when the real problems arise. Your company, and your leadership, will undoubtedly suffer for that.
3. Networking is Expensive
When you’re hanging out at the bar with new friends you met at a conference, it’s easy to get carried away and run up a tab. All those conference tickets, fancy cocktails, and cheese plates add up—fast! If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a nasty financial hangover to go with your throbbing headache.
Treat drinks and dinner as an investment. Before you shout a round of drinks or invite a connection out to an upscale restaurant, ask yourself if it’s worth the expense. What is the ideal outcome you’re seeking, and what is the likely benefit this person can bring to your business?
4. Be Strategic
All those big logos on a glossy conference pamphlet may look impressive, but who are the people those companies are sending? Do they really have in depth technical knowledge or experience that will be useful to you?
A common problem with networking events is that they’re often packed with startup founders and business newbies. That’s not necessarily bad, but it can make the pool of knowledge pretty shallow, and you can end up talking with a lot of people who can only share redundant information.
Before you buy tickets to an event, do some research, and work out your own needs. Who are some of the key people you need to meet to help you solve the current problems in your business? Is it wise to invest in the conference if you’re not likely to come away with any information you don’t already know?
5. Social Media Can Be Deceptive
In our personal lives, we all know that our friends and peers go out of their way to present their best selves on social media. Behind the scenes, things are not always as perfect as they seem.
This is true in the corporate world as well. When you see photos of your competitors out hobnobbing with famous people, receiving awards, or touting their success, remember that it’s simply self-promotion.
Don’t feel like you have to compete by attending the same events or spending money wooing the same people. Carve your own path, and focus on networking with those that you know will add value to your business, even when they are not the most glamorous people in your industry.
6. Unfocused Networking Can Jeopardize Existing Relationships
If you spend more time networking than managing your team, or invest energy in chasing new leads when you should be focusing on your current clients, people are going to take note. You could even lose credibility that you’ve worked hard to build up.
If you don’t put value in maintaining the client relationships you have, those relationships will inevitably fall apart.
7. Burnt Bridges Come Back to Haunt You
Earlier, I mentioned that you should always consider what you are getting from a relationship or event. This is true, but also be wary of sidelining people that don’t represent an immediate opportunity for you or your company.
Just because someone isn’t successful now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the near future.
Unfortunately, people have long memories when it comes to perceived slights, rudeness, or bad behavior in general. Even if you’re not interested in pursuing a relationship with someone, treat them with respect.
Don’t be afraid to do favors for others with no ulterior motive. It may come to nothing, but studies have shown that successful people are often the ones who have learned to balance giving and taking in their relationships.
Networking can be an amazing way to further your career, especially if you’re taking the time to ensure you’re getting the most power for your punch. Successful networking can be boiled down to one singular question: Am I creating value for myself or for others?
It is up to debate whether entrepreneurs or business people have a social responsibility to create value for people; but it is definitely proven that doing so will help you in the end.