When you are new in business, you tend to jump on anything that smells like a business opportunity and you tend to think that networking is the way forward to success. When you get more experienced, you get wiser.
You learn that networking efforts too often are a waste of time if you are looking to grow your business. Once you have reached a certain level and people know who you are, I argue, that you can cut down drastically on the time you spend on networking activities.
This is good news because we all know how time consuming networking can be.
There is in particular one kind of networking activity that is not worth the efforts. This is meetings with “brokers” as in someone who are well connected within a given industry or geographical region. You tend to think that if you network with this person then you might be able to tap into his or her network and exploit some business opportunities.
I have tried this so many times. I have initiated lots of such contacts myself and I have been approached by lots of people who think we can make things happen if we connect. In theory, this makes sense, but I just don’t see any value in such meetings. They only rarely lead to real business opportunities.
Some networking activities are a waste of time. However, there are still situations in which I think networking is valuable. This includes:
• Get new insights and inspiration. This is the key reason I still attend some conferences and interact with relevant people.
• Efforts to build my personal brand. Although much of personal brand building – or the brand of your innovation team – is done through social media today, you still need to put a face on your activities and here good, old networking might work.
• The soft sale. I invest quite some time in building relationships with corporate innovation teams. This takes me back to my first point – new insights and inspiration – as such interactions with corporate innovation teams definitely bring me this, but the key reason is that I hope this will bring me some business opportunities in the near or midterm future.
I can also note that I have shifted most of my networking efforts from the real world (meetings are too time-consuming) to the virtual world (e-mail exchanges, social media interactions and in some cases phone talks). Perhaps you can free up some valuable time by doing the same?
You might also be interested in these blog posts on networking and personal brand building: