Recently, successful entrepreneur and latest addition to Dragons Den Steven Barlett posted on social saying ‘networking is pointless’, so of course I had to say something! But it might not be what you think…
He’s actually right! Networking can be pointless. Well, actually, it can feel pointless, in the same way that social media can feel pointless, or any other type of marketing activities; when you’re doing it wrong.
Attending the wrong networking events for you and your objectives is always going to feel pointless, because you’re not going to meet the people you need to help you achieve your goals. (This is why it’s so important to be strategic in your approach to selecting events – here’s a recent blog post on 5 Steps to Strategic Networking.) In the same way not all businesses need to be on TikTok, or have a Pinterest, not everyone needs to attend networking events either. BUT we do all need to network, no business is an island after all!
There’s a difference between networking, and attending a networking event. Going to a traditional networking event where you book a ticket, turn up, and talk to people, is only one small part of what makes up networking activities.
Building your personal brand and networking online could be a better fit for you, just like Steven mentioned in his post. Adding value to the people in your network by creating great content, sharing knowledge and experiences, building associations between yourself and your area of expertise, supporting other people’s digital content: this is all still networking! It’s just the nurturing part of networking that comes after you’ve connected with people either in person, at events, or online.
Attending traditional events is just one option for building your network, there are lots of other activities to choose and like any good strategy you should include a range of them.
You could have reached a stage in your career when you don’t need to attend networking events anymore. Fantastic! That doesn’t mean you don’t network – you’ve just moved into a different part of the networking ecosystem.
Instead of booking onto an event, you’ll be invited to events – you’ll network with people through the voluntary work you do, and public speaking engagements. You’ll network with new customers and followers, team members and colleagues. At the dinners you attend as a guest and the charity events you support, and you’ll network with every single person you engage with along the way because, I hate to break this to you, but you’re ALWAYS NETWORKING!
Every time you come into contact with another people, be it in-person or online, you’re networking. You’re leaving people with an impression of who we are and what we stand for, and that can be the difference between success and failure.
I’d also argue that meeting new people can always be of value, to you and to them. Even if, on the surface, you might never work together or have anything in common, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from each other. Network diversity, i.e. connecting with people from a range of back grounds, industries, areas of expertise etc. has been proved to directly impact the financial success of businesses (see the study posted by Harvard Business Review). Networking for knowledge is something I’m a huge fan of, so going to events with the intention of learning from others will not only impact you, but your business too.
Plus, when you meet someone new you’re not just speaking to them, you’re speaking to everyone they know and will ever know! So remember to be nice people (here’s a post on what I call Connection Marketing aka building your personal brand by being nice!).
Finally, I just wanted to touch on some of the additional benefits of attending networking events that don’t often get considered; the feeling of being connected. In a digital world and during a global pandemic where we all connect to each other through our screens, going along to a coffee shop to chat with other humans in 3D can be incredibly powerful for our mental and emotional health. (For more on this check out the amazing book, Lost Connections.)
To build meaningful relationships, spend time in the presence of other people who share common interests and experience similar things to us is a deeply fulfilling thing. We want to feel connected to others. To feel safe, part of a tribe, a community. Networking can provide that for a lot of people, especially entrepreneurs just starting out, working from home and in isolation. We feel lonely, and as wonderful as technology is, it doesn’t scratch the itch we have when it comes to feeling connected. We’re only human after all.
So yes, networking can feel pointless, but it can also feel empowering, impactful, and personally fulfilling – you just need to take control of your activities and embrace it!