1. Networking is a marathon, not a sprint
I started going to the same networking events regularly, and I met some of the same people over and over again. And when that happened, we would start to approach each other like friends “Heyyyy so good to see you again!” If that happened over 4 to 5 times, the likeliness of us doing stuff outside of the networking event was super high! I’ve gotten rides, helped someone move, and had the opportunity just to hang out. Sounds like friendship, right? Well that’s what they became. That’s when the real, genuine relationships started to form. Now I can easily call these people any time, get advice, get introductions, or just grab lunch whenever is convenient. Basically, my mind was blown when I learned networking was not about quick, short-term exchanges, but rather about long-term relationship building.
2. Networking is therapy
As an entrepreneur, I can easily be head down all the time and beat the progress drum and repeat to myself that “I have a plan and I will make this plan work!” However, there are times where the plan went wrong, the plan sucked, or the plan was a plan for the sake of just having a plan. In those situations, networking was very important to me. I shared my experience with other entrepreneurs and got advice. I listened to the stories of others and became inspired. And best of all, I listened to those entrepreneurs just starting out, which served as a great reminder of how far I have come.
3. Networking is a place to inspire
Back in the day when I started going to networking events, I was shy, intimidated, and disillusioned, hoping to make that dream connection with someone. Once I started “getting” what networking actually was, I got a lot of value from it very quickly—but now, years later, that immediate “value” started getting smaller as the novelty wore off. So one day, I decided to reverse the role by being the mentor for the new kids. Basically, I found someone who was just starting out, asked them questions, showed them that I cared and quite quickly became a mentor for that moment. I became the dream connection, which is hopefully helpful for them, and it always fills me with warm fuzzies, like I’m giving back to the community that helped me get to where I am today.
4. Networking is in the moment
I don’t bring business cards, and I don’t ask for them. I exchange stories, I exchange ideas. I listen, I try to inspire. Hopefully, I leave a mark or someone leaves a mark on me. And if, just if, I meet that rare dream connection, I make sure we take a photo together and connect via email. However, that usually happens every 2-3 networking events—it simply doesn’t happen all the time. I literally make it hard to exchange business cards because it’s just weird expecting anything to come from exchanging a piece of paper. I want to make sure any connection with any expectation is actually genuine.
5. You can graduate from one networking class to the other
General networking events are typically full of people just getting into the industry. If I go to pay-only or invite-only networking events, the quality gets higher and higher. Sometimes hearing about these exclusive events takes time, and word of mouth is the only way to find out about them. I’m now on the list of a VC-only networking event. One of the members then made their own exclusive networking event that I’ve also been invited to. And sometimes a group of graduating members form their own private breakfast clubs as well, which are always fun. The more exclusive they become, the more value I tend to get out of them. But I wouldn’t have gotten there without starting in the general networking events.
Networking events are a beautiful phenomenon, and maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather live in a world with them than without them. The professional ones are a bit more forced, probably a by-product of our geography and lifestyles. And I always tell myself if I can master these professional ones, I can master ones that are less structured that surround us everyday. That’s right, I’m talking about life. It could be at a restaurant, a gathering of friends, a dance event, a school-parent meeting, or just walking in plazas or down the street. I’d argue that if you can make networking work for you, it does percolate down through all those facets of life. Yes, it’s hard, it’s very hard. But it’s one of those things in life that anyone can learn, and if you work hard at it, it will become fulfilling and become a craft that you can’t imagine living your life without.