For more than a decade I was that guy. I’d hit every networking event in town. Most of the time it was once a week but there were weeks where two or three networking event were “important” and I’d hit them all. To be fair, some were not billed as a networking event. They might be a social. Many were fund raisers or grand openings for businesses. Not one event do I recall thinking was wholly bad, nor do I recall any one event that was perfectly catered to my individual needs. Such is life, though. I’d go and see what there was to discover – who was there to be met – and spend time fishing in uncharted waters.
I’ve always known that going to networking events was a form of fishing – for me and I think most people we are fishing for “contacts” or “connection” that we can hopefully, eventually monetize. To do that, most networkers understand there’s a long tail relationship curve that must be fostered. On this note, at some point in the last year I vocalized a very clear analogy that ultimately was unsettling. “Networking events are like fishing in uncharted waters; you never know what you might land – if you land anything at all.” Then I thought about that. I’m not an angler but I’ve done some actual fishing in my life. I have always gone fishing where I have a sense of what is under the surface and I go with the bait and tackle that is befitting of the desired result. Was I doing the networking event circuit the way I actually fish?
Networking events are like fishing in uncharted waters; you never know what you might land – if you land anything at all.Josh Pies
I came to the quick conclusion that I was definitely wasting time doing something wrong. Was I doing anything right at all? Yes, I was. When I’d go to a networking event I would put on my loudest jackets, come prepared to converse, plan to only have one alcoholic beverage so that I never risk my integrity and quality, and I always came with business cards. So, I was prepared to “fish” the waters. I’d also take a guess at the type of person I might meet and be prepared to hear about them and offer up questions and comments of value. This meant that I’d walk into a technology networking event ready to hear about their industry and participate where they are at. I’d try to be the right person value for a group of doctors at a hospital gala. You know, just being a good conversationalist seems to be right… So I did that too. Maybe that’s analogous to knowing what type of fish are under the surface.
Sadly, how I view my “wins” from networking events is that I’d get a quality contact about 1x per maybe 25 or 30 people met. This means that I’d have to go to at least three events to get one business card that MIGHT turn into a sales conversation OVER TIME. What a terribly long sales cycle with miserably high effort attached to it! The reason for my low rate of conversion though was not me, it was that there was 100+ of me at each event. Perhaps I was the only “Chief Attention Getter” in the video and branding space but there were at least 99 others who were there to find targets to sell to, or ‘Fish to Reel In’. The likelihood that I’d actually meet a bunch of them was VERY HIGH. And, sadly, no matter how willing I was to hear them out and see if we could either become referral partners or collaborators or even mutually clients of each other most were there to just fish. This meant that I’d waste time in weeds. To drive a fishing analogy a bit too far – I’d lose my lure (my business card) in their weeds far too often.
Only recently have I noticed an even more troubling trend that networking events have been found out by many people as being a waste of time so they choose instead to still attend and drink – HEAVILY. Last thing I want to do is go drink with strangers when I have my wife and kids at home.
As you can see, Networking – which we all somehow believe has value since “your network is your net worth” according to many – may be a bankrupt activity and nobody noticed.
The truth though is that your “network” is not tied to the modern social term of “networking”. You can build your network in myriad ways, including but not limited to joining the board of a non-profit, volunteering, joining purposeful groups like a BNI Chapter, and the like. Then, there’s digital networking. Social Networking tends for most people to stay very superficial. A profile, a comment, the occasional video – most of which is personal – tends to be where people keep their social media activity. Some use it for business but tend to do it with little planning or strategy, but… some have actually figured it out and are using it powerfully for their business needs – and those people have earned a title of “Personal Brand”.
What if the journey of purposeful, personal branding were actually the ULTIMATE play for building your network and therefore your business?
Network = Net-worth
How many well off people do you know? I know a ton. They may not flaunt it but I am very clear that they have 7, 8 and some 9 figures to their net worth. How did they get there? Short answer: They chose it.
People who build noteworthy net-worth are strategic. They make choices that build their portfolio, and this includes who they associate with on both business and personal levels. You rarely find these people at networking events unless they are the guest of honor. Interestingly, you do find that they have written books. You will find that they have a thoughtful blog or vlog. You may find keynote speeches on their YouTube channel. They are working hard to make sure that the spread their message for an audience to consume and gain value from. Those who do derive value from their books, blogs, vlogs and videos build an affinity for that creator and being to grow trust. Is it a personal trust where someone might say, “here watch my baby even though I’ve never met you, I watched your video so we’re cool”? Nope. That’d be weird. It’s a trust where the video viewer who gained value from the viewing experience now trusts the value driver as an expert in that topic.
It seems to me that if the high net-worth individual isn’t trolling 100 networking events per year but they are writing books and doing videos and delivering speeches then perhaps I was doing it wrong -and maybe you are, too. So today, go write a book and film a few videos and please go book a stage to speak on so you can fix this for yourself. <<< Sarcasm abounds… this obviously isn’t happening in a day. But there can be a plan to pivot.
The Pivot – Part 1 (Personal Brands First)
You may not be able to shut off the networking event attendance overnight. Some sales people are expected to do it. Some people are actually addicted to the social component that naturally comes with it. I do NOT recommend you stop cold turkey. I DO recommend that you begin creating content to start to replace some of your in-person social effort (I almost typed commitments, but let’s not kid ourselves, they were never “commitments”).
What if you started by writing down the top 3 things that YOU can speak with authority about which your ideal customer needs to know about? Break those things down into sub topics that would fuel video content. Now, take each thing and see if you can come up with a power statement that can be your go-to phrase which people who follow you can adopt.
What have you just created? A mantra. If you want to build a tribe of followers you must have a mantra.
So, let’s count:
- You have 3 big topics within the lens of your main lane of expertise.
- You have sub topics (maybe 10-15) that can use to start
- writing of blogs,
- shooting videos and
- giving talks (think Lunch and Learn).
- And, you have 1 to 3 mantra phrases you can begin to propagate.
Imagine freely sharing your expertise on LinkedIN, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to your sphere of influence so that they can become accustomed to understanding who you are in your industry. Imagine suggesting to a client or client target that you come in and give a free talk over a lunch period (you don’t have to buy, but you can) so that their team can grow in their understanding of an important topic. Imagine, if you are more B-2-C, doing a webinar or zoom call with people to do a similar educational event. You just booked your own stage and set yourself as the expert.
Click Here for more on how to “Get Picked” to be on stages from author (and my friend) Aurora Gregory.
The Pivot Part 2 (For Businesses)
A blog like this reads as if this is more career advice or maybe only for “personal brands”. It’s for businesses, too.
Consider what the top asset at any business – what is it? Human Capital. People are the atoms that make up the body of a business. We need to accept the following two truths as given so we can pivot our businesses with confidence:
- Each person in a business has a way of being and a skill set that makes them an expert in their work at some level.
- Humans, also, are social beings that thrive on relationship. In fact, we know to build relationships to gain new business but often we business think of our own business as the large entity that somehow builds a relationship with a human. This is untrue. Our humans connect to their humans and our human-based businesses work together.
Notice somewhere above I mentioned how salespeople may have to go to networking events? They go on behalf of their employer but they happen to be building personal connections. While the frequency of quality connections at in-person networking events are often low, the intent is right. A key to raising the frequency and reach (advertising terms) of networking efforts is to allow your people to share their expertise by creating content for and with each other on behalf of your business. This will allow people to feel as if they both know that your company is full of experts but also they will know the names and faces of these experts which is a first step to perceived relationship.
We at C47 Films work with a great manufacturing company who well before contracting with us had something very right. Their blog was populated by original writings created by their CEO, their Safety Coordinator, and their Engineering staff. Clients read these blogs and learn from the very people who they might work with. They are now extending this practice outward to video and via social release strategies. The are NOT speaking as a faceless behemoth but they are allowing their top asset – their people – to grow their authority and build trust in the marketplace.
It is incumbent on modern businesses to see their human capital -their people- as the key to growth. Fostering a culture where expert voices can be expressed to show the level of quality their company invests in is a strong play. Is it risky? Sure, the people you allow to be seen may leave you. What’s worse though: Having a company with low trust in the marketplace but will not suffer embarrassment of loss if someone leaves or a possible public loss moment as someone leaves but your whole company is already seen as a trustworthy standout because you have a culture of sharing value and expertise? I would choose the second version all day long.
Content IS the New Networking
I’ve said it many times in the last few years:
We are in the relationship economy.Josh Pies
We do business with people we know, like and trust. There may have been a time when networking events were the best way to start this journey but now, in this economy, the best way to really connect with people is to grow them with engaging, quality, educational content that proves you are expert FOR them. It is you giving freely to help others from your position of power – your expertise. Don’t stand around at a networking event to test, one person at a time, whether a person you are speaking to fits into your world. When you lean into content you’ll find that the wrong people will have already dismissed you, and the right ones will speak up and ask for more.