Why I hate networking

by Tom Albrighton 13 October 2010 Freelancing, Popular

Am I the only one who hates networking? Looking at Twitter, it sometimes seems so. Everyone’s attending, or indeed hosting, events like there’s no tomorrow. But perhaps the ‘notworkers’ are just too shy to come out and confess. Well, I’m happy to start the dancing. Read my seven reasons not to network, then add your own – or tell me why I’m wrong. (Which I’m not.)

  • It’s scary. Well, it is for me anyway. Walking up to strangers and introducing myself would be right up there on my list of least favourite activities, just ahead of sticking pins in my eyes and coming a close second to camping. Or ballroom dancing.
  • It’s egotistical. For me, actively pushing my services has always gone against the grain. Yes, I know you have to do it, and I’ve got my head around doing it online. But in person, I always get the sickening sense of necessity clashing with personality. It’s just not me.
  • Wallflowers are attractive, fragrant and low-maintenance

    It’s expensive. OK, some events are free, but many aren’t. They remind me of the days when I paid a tenner to get into a club on a Thursday night, only to find myself in a dimly lit room with my mates and two other blokes even less glamorous than us.

  • It’s ineffective. ‘I’m looking for a copywriter actually. In fact, that’s why I came here today.’ Just one of the things I will never, ever hear at a networking event. Because when my prospects want my services, they go straight to the web, or to a colleague for a recommendation. Not to a hotel near the airport.
  • It’s a waste of time. Instead of spending an afternoon failing to sell myself, I could create a blog post that’s got a fighting chance of getting backlinks from authority or related sites in my niche. Or cold-call a few promising-looking prospects. Or take my daughter to the park. All arguably deliver more benefit.
  • It’s insincere. No, I am not remotely interested in your rivet-making company, or its newly introduced rivet. Yet for appearances’ sake I must feign interest – as must you, hah! But the eyes are the window to the soul, and our mutual disdain cannot be completely hidden.
  • It’s boring. Meeting a load of strangers at 7.30am? At a golf club? I might just take a rain check, thanks. Although, thinking about it, I don’t have that much work coming up… Now, where did I put those business cards?

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  • This is exactly why i have never attended any networking event. I don’t need to. Like you, i am happy growing my company from referrals and organic sales rather than pushing myself in front of people that really aren’t interested in what i do.

  • He he he, oh Tom I think the ingrained hatred for networking events is very much a writer’s thing.

    I too hate face to face networking which is why, like you, I’ve managed my business so all my networking and clients either come to me via the web or through referrals.

    As soon as someone mentions networking I break out in a cold sweat. Walking into a room of strangers is akin to walking into a lion’s den. I find it impossible to ‘break into’ conversational mobs. And why is it that everyone else seems to know everyone else – except me?

    I just find the whole situation very false. Everyone is there to try and sell and that’s not how I do business. Sound odd? Well, perhaps it is but I’ve never had to ‘sell’ myself. People go to my website, like what I have to say and ask for a quote. I send it, if they are happy with it they say ‘yes’, if not they go elsewhere – that’s just how it is.

    I do go to one networking event regularly – the LinkedIn East Anglian SMEs one at Dunston Hall (happening this Thursday as it happens). The main reasons being a) it makes me feel as though I’m at least trying, b) I know a few people who go, c) it’s very informal – basically people just meet in the bar for a gossip, and d) I have a fellow writer there to talk to (@HuwSayer). Oh and it’s free 🙂

    So Tom you are not alone.

  • So, so relate to this Tom! I’ve done my fair share of early start network meetings and now look back at all that time I could have spent doing something more valuable. Like sleeping.

    I think the more specialised your area of expertise the less likely you are to pick up work at one of these face to face local networking groups. And why bother when you can talk to the world (if the world is following you) on Twitter.

    Networking is about building relationships not swapping business cards before dawn. Which will end up in someone’s recycling box anyway.

    Dinosaurs died out and so will the type of face-to-face networking meetings you are talking about.

  • At last someone who has near enough the same views as me! I hate being made to feel like I “should” be at a Hotel or Golf Club meeting fellow business people. I like networking online, there are no airs and graces as such and similarly I have no need to invest in a huge wardrobe of suits with matching accessories just to keep up appearances at the next cold breakfast and weak coffee bash.

    I will go one day, when I am as old as my mum and have no worries about what I say to anyone no matter how offensive it is…;)

    Great job, Emma

  • I agree networking is the worst exerience ever. If you arrive too early you end up in a room on your own looking desperate and not a little creepy. If you arrive slightly too late everyone has formed little cliques which you have to barge into.

    No-one cares about anyone and you end up with your business card on endless mailing lists for financial advisers you’d rather kill than meet again.

    They are the most pointless activity known to man

  • My wife and her then business partner went to a couple of networking breakfasts a few years ago and described them as being ‘for the pushy’. I’ve also heard tales about how at some you are almost bludgeoned into giving out a certain number of ‘leads’ or business contacts and that’s it’s all very full on. None of that is for me. Mind you, I am also not a great fan of the £500 a ticket social media events that seem to pop up everywhere. Half a thousand British Queen’s pounds to speculate about what might or might not happen in the future? No thanks!

  • Yup. Absolutely spot on. And if anyone is currently thinking of subscribing to a business network … http://wp.me/p12f2c-1FD

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  • Tom, it looks like we all feel your pain. I’ve never liked a room full of strangers. I’m sure you’re also right that these aren’t great places for writers to find new business. Personal introductions are my biggest source of new clients by a mile.

  • Ha ha – Not just me then. I can’t stand networking. The quality is just not there for me. Some people also just seem to be Professional Networkers.

    In terms of value, I can’t see networking as being a good use of my time. In the hope that someone just happens to want what you offer there and then versus time / effort / costs.

    I like your idea of adding value to your online ‘shop window’, which in itself is much more sustainable.

  • As Sally Ormond (see above) will vouch – this pretty much sums up my whole view on networking – I simply hate it. With the one exception of the Dunston Hall gathering because then Sally and I chat about stuff other than work or spend our time laughing at Alex Parr’s mad stories. It’s networking without the net and without the work (the ing is in laughing).

    PS: Would say “hope to see you there” but that might come across as more enthusiastic than I feel.

  • Alconcalcia

    The one exception to the rule is my local creative meet up once a month. That’s like minded people in small numbers chatting about stuff that is relevant to all of them. And, I’ve already got some business out of it, which was nice!

  • Ben

    Agree all the way, Tom. I’ve spent many £’s and many hours at these things. I hate everything about them:

    – Mindless small-talk,
    – People thinking I’m an I.T. professional, designer, or something to do with copyright,
    – Everybody knowing everybody else,
    – Watching a lot of men in suits kissing each other’s backsides,
    – Listening to those who go on and on and on about their own company,
    – Feeling bad when taking a second buffet helping,
    – Holding a fake grin for 2 hours.

    Like you say, it’s just not me.

  • Oh I so agree! With our web design/SEO business we get told all the time to go to networking events and I hate them so don’t do it any more. I have had more web and SEO referrals by running my cupcake business, as people see how well the website does and want a bit for themselves.

    I much prefer going to markets and sales where, instead of paying to be bored by all the same people, I get to sell my cakes, make a profit and make people smile – that’s the kind of networking I like.

    The problem is that once you have networked for a year you just meet the same old people each time. A good product/service, an efficient website (not just a pretty one, one that works well in search!) and happy customers who are happy to tell their friends or contacts about you plus maybe a bit of social networking is all you need. No wasting interminable hours of your life that you can never get back with people who see networking as a way of life. Actually some people seem to spend soooo long networking when do they actually do any work?? I have no time to be networking even once a week!

  • Ali

    Yeah Tom! And everyone else here.In the time it takes me to slap on a bit of lippie and get to Preston and back, I could write three blogs and Link In to 20 prospects. I love meeting people, but only after I have formed an online Know-Like-Trust with them.

    Our value is in the words we put online, not in the number of samosas we can polish off in an evening. Well done for having the courage to post this!

  • I think I may be the only voice of dissent! I may be biased as an Area Leader for 4N, but I have been in business just over a year and networking for 1 year. 90% of my business comes through this way and just one contract has paid my annual membership until I’m 140, so yes, it does work for me. Would I have had this work anyway? Categorically no – I would never have met any of my clients via website/social media etc….and why would they pass business to someone that they don’t know? I wouldn’t.

  • Perhaps it depends on what you mean by networking.
    I am not keen on the most of the types of events described above but I do love networking.

    Alconcalcia enjoys the ‘creative meet up’ because it’s like minded people sharing – and to me that’s the fun of networking in the right place. There is no pressure to ‘sell’ or refer people on – instead you go to a place that you enjoy, learn something, meet like minded colleagues and genuinely do something. And by actively becoming part of something bigger than your own business you end up forming alliances, partnerships or colleagues that you may do business with in the end.

    I helped to start a ‘trainers support network’ about 9 years ago and I’m still getting work from some of the relationships that were formed there but that was never its purpose; so networking does work if you don’t see it just as a way to generate immediate referrals.

    And I think you need to network where your clients would naturally gather rather than people who like ‘networking’.

    Please don’t give up the idea of networking all together – because you’re probably already doing it as you go about your normal days – isn’t social media just part of networking?

    Shall I stand back now and let everyone tell me I’m wrong (slight trepidation).

    “Networks are people talking to each other, sharing ideas, information, and resources. ”
    John Naisbitt excerpt from Megatrends

  • I loathe networking, and I avoid it whenever possible – but I don’t mind smaller events that have a bit more focus and purpose.

    I do admire your photo caption…

  • Networking – it’s such a shite American term, which we shouldn’t use for what is basically drinking (and normally on other people’s money)

    You should go to events and these sort of nights, but only if you have a purpose. Make a point of meeting or talking to a couple of people or companies that you have already earmarked – and don’t shun others because of this – I promise you’ll meet some interesting people over time.

    If you want to get drunk, then go out with your mates. It’s more fun and you won’t come across as a dick. If you do get drunk, then get out quickly and quietly.

    Can’t say I’ve always adhered to the above but have tried hard.

  • I would never have gone to a networking event in my previous career, but when we set up business, someone told us that we should join BNI. We knew no one in Norfolk and this was a way to get to know local business people – 80% of our business came from the BNI in our first year. We aren’t members any longer but we do run 3 other networking groups.

    I was so shy when I was younger that one of my teachers refused to give me a reference for University (I got around that by reading the small print and went anyway!). Networking (or indeed talking to people face to face in any situation) takes me out of my comfort zone.

    But we get business from it, and my business is my passion.

    When I first went to the BNI, not only was I shaking from standing up and talking in front of people, I was also shaking like a leaf because I had to drive there and I had a driving phobia. What I gained, though, was practice in talking about my business, and good friends.

    I hate public speaking but I use our own events to practice (actually Huw caught me at one event trying to summon up the courage to interrupt everyone to do a speech – I bottled out!)

    I don’t go to networking events looking to sell, but because the more we meet people the more they are likely to know and trust us. If I think I might be able to do business with someone or help them in some way, I arrange to meet up another time for a coffee. When I worked in an office for long hours I used to wonder who those lucky people were who were out and about in the day. Now I’m one of them – doing business the way I love and on my terms.

    I love the way you can chat to people on twitter and then meet them face to face at events. I think the two go together.

    The reason I like networking now is that I can be myself – it’s my business and I’m not trying to be something I’m not in order to fit into a corporate image.

    I’ve been a bit brave here, so please be gentle with any comments.

  • Listen. I created 4Networking for all the reasons you cite.

    Give 4Networking a go, i’ll even come all the way from Somerset and chaperone you and pay for your breakfast and you will see your preconceptions don;’t fit with the culture, format and approach of 4networking.

    250 linked groups around the uk, 35,000+ members.. working in isolation is a lonely place, its like being in solitary confinement.

    It needn’t be that way.

    If you will take me up on my offer, lets get it on, all i ask is you report back honestly in a blog.

    Brad B / MD . 4Networking

  • Glad it’s not just me then!

    I think they can be useful but I’d much rather use the time as Tom said, to be using a blog or Twitter or email or getting in touch with a client.

    Or at the moment getting the site up and running!!

    Andover IT

  • Well I’m really sorry folks, but I must side with Sara Greenfield and Brad Burton. Networking works – and you are all doing it. Maybe not formally, but “referrals” mentioned several times above and “organic sales” are forms of networking.
    After a near 40 year career and forced early retirement, I set up my own company to use my management and procurement skills to help others and supplement my income. In reality I knew an awful lot of things, but very little about running a business. Contrary to the popular view, Business Gateway were a lot of help in the early months, but I knew very few people in the business community in my neck of the woods. More importantly, none of them knew me.
    So with a non-existent marketing budget the best way of convincing people of my expertise was to put it on show through networking, and I tried several. Like many early comments, pushing myself forward was outside my comfort zone. I am not a “Salesman” but guess what, networking is not about “selling” and those who go actively to sell usually fail (and then declare networking a waste of time). It’s about building contacts and their confidence that you are a suitable operator they can feel happy referring their other contacts to for services.
    The network that worked for me was 4N, and it was far from scary. People made me feel welcome and still do nearly a year on – and I have had enough business from fellow members and their referrals to make it worthwhile. None of that would have come my way without taking the plunge and networking.
    I suggest you take Brad’s challenge – you have nothing to lose but your waistline (and inhibitions).

  • I can see what Brad, John and Sara are saying and yes it does work well for some people, however, at the moment I feel I get more time value using my current tools which are also benefiting both myself and my clients.

    And connecting to people online is still networking and leaves the option open to meet up “in the real world”.

    Maybe I’ve just been to the wrong networking events… :o)

  • It’s a bit disappointing reading some of these these comments – do you all sit and work in isolation from the wider world and wait for the phone to the ring?

    One of the things I’ve learnt since starting my business is you have to nurture other skills than your core expertise. You have to be the public face of your business, get out there, speak to people, be introduced, get known. Soon your business builds a profile. And networking has helped me achieve this, from attending events (even when I don’t want to), industry lectures (which I love) and supporting or sponsoring local events.

    There are bad networking events which are poorly organised, where the ideas of performance or inspiration are forgotten. When events possess these qualities, then you feel willing to participate.

    I know it’s not easy but, I’m going to sign-off with this:

    “shyness nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things you want to”.

  • In answer to Darren’s question – no, of course we don’t sit and wait for the phone to ring. Yes, we do get out and meet people – but I think what Tom was referring to (and certainly I was) are the high pressure, elevator pitch, pass on leads, hand out cards, tick box events that cost a small fortune (particularly if you work for yourself). What you might call NETWORKING! That’s what I hate.

    Here are some other thoughts I wrote down over year ago (but never posted) in response to a question about networking on LinkedIn:

    Although I think a good network is vital to long term success, I dread networking events.

    I feel really uncomfortable with crowds of people, even when I know some of them. People who know me find this odd because I can be a good listener and some think I am quite sociable and confident (I have no problems asking questions in public and have even been known to take to the stage without being overwhelmed by nerves). However, while I am perfectly happy to sit down with a few people for a chat, I find the prospect of circulating off-putting.

    In particular, I find it hard to focus on what other people are saying above the noise of the crowd. I don’t have bad hearing but there is something about the acoustics at these events that makes it difficult for me to follow the thread of conversations; as such they tend to sound strained and stilted and I never feel that I actually get to know the people I meet. (A problem compounded by not being able to read most people’s name cards – either because they are printed too small or because it would mean starring at a women’s breasts – the sort of embarrassing behaviour I prefer to avoid.)

    There also seems to be something artificial about standing around, talking to people rather than sitting down. Physically it feels awkward: you end up standing at an angle to each other, whereas when you sit down you tend to sit opposite each other. Perhaps this explains my hearing difficulty – in that when you stand at an angle to someone you effectively only hear half of what they say, whereas when you sit opposite you get the message in stereo and you see their face more clearly.

    Another problem is that I feel a bit of a fraud: in that, as a sole trader, I am not a buyer of other people’s services. I feel that I am robbing other people of their valuable time if I stand and listen to them talk about their business when they could more profitably be talking to someone else. Consequently I tend to find networking events draining rather than invigorating.

    That said, I do enjoy meeting people – individual, real people, with no agenda. I love hearing their stories – I am in awe of people who have built up and run successful businesses. Perhaps because I am not good a making things, I particularly enjoy meeting engineers, builders, designers, and photographers. I am always interested in hearing what other people do and why they do it. I just can’t offer them much in return – except that, if I like them and what they do, I will mention them to other people who might need their services. So while networking for myself can be painful – networking for others is fun and immensely satisfying.

    Hope to see some of you this evening at Dunston Hall.


  • Gary

    I can understand some people’s opinions on here, but I think it’s a shame that the stereotype of the secluded writer continues – and is even embraced by some! Networking can be false and exhausting and often comes to nothing, but learning how to approach large groups of people and sell yourself is something that will benefit not just your career but every part of your life. I don’t think you should shun the opportunity to refine your confidence and people skills, and then there’s always the fact that the solitude freelance writing should be countered whenever possible to avoid said freelancer turning into a cave troll.

    You do tend to meet at least one interesting person at these things, and somebody else’s line of working can often be surprisingly fascinating – although rivets is probably pushing it.

  • Well it would appear as though networking is a marmite moment – you either love it or you hate it. I think a lot of it comes down to personal preference. Yes, I am told by a lot of people I should network more and I am frequently dragged (kicking and screaming) to events. But why should I be made to feel as though I have to put myself through that torture (before anyone jumps on me, that is the way it feels to me)? I run my business in the way that suits me.

    I remember one evening event I attended. I was talking to a chap who asked about how I got clients etc. So I told him how my marketing was set up so virtually all my clients (other than those that come via referrals – yes I do get them!) find me on the web. They are impressed by what they read on my website, and they engage my services. His reply? “Well that’s all well and good for you, you’re a writer. That wouldn’t work for other businesses though!”

    So what’s he saying there? Networking is the only way to grow a business? Well my own experience can prove that wrong in an instant. The fact is people should be free to grow their business in a way that suits them – I don’t enjoy networking, I am very uncomfortable in a room of strangers and I don’t see why I should put myself through that sort of ordeal just because ‘it’s how you should do business’.

    As well as running my own business, I also have 2 kids to look after, 2 dogs, 2 rabbits, 1 husband, a house plus I’m a volunteer wish granter with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There are only so many hours in a day and when I’m not working I want to spend time with my family rather than in a room full of strangers.

    I am not a ‘cave troll’ and there’s nothing wrong with my people skills (I worked on the front line in a bank and previously mentioned charity work shows I am a personable soul) I just prefer not to be made to feel as though I should go to events that I don’t enjoy.

    Here endeth my rant – back to work 🙂

  • *Applauds* I hate it too, it’s just not something that ever sits comfortably with me – which is why I never do it.

    Personally I don’t think there’s anyway to fastrack a business relationship (or any relationship for that matter). I suppose there’s a chance that you could meet someone you really gel with at one of these events and it ‘could’ lead to something beautiful, but I still shudder at the thought.

    Does that put me firmly in the bracket of cave dwelling writer? *sips tea, peers up at the sun*

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  • I have nothing constructive to add. And I’ve clicked that button you asked me to Tom.

  • Hi Tom,

    Although I agree with you about traditional networking there is a new breed of ‘networking’ events that are much less formal and are more about taking online relationships offline. I help to organise Cheltenham’s Social Media Cafe (www.cheltsocialmediacafe.org.uk) which is all about getting people together over coffee and cake – no sales pitches allowed! It’s a lot more fun than some of the old style networking events I’ve felt obliged to go to and many local people agree.

  • I agree with your reasons – every single one of them. But the solid truth is that despite logic, my last networking event netted me two clients, and a solid lead on a third. In two hours. And it was free.

    You just can’t beat that.

  • I can relate to all of the above Tom. Despite being told there’s so much business in these early morning meetings, I’ve not found much and certainly haven’t found my preferred client, so I have a lie in these days and let Google do the work for me. Oh, and the breakfasts are always rubbish!

  • Thanks to everyone who commented on this post. I waited for many months before publishing it, because I thought I would be heavily criticised. In the event, I’m amazed how many people agree with me.

    Without retracting anything in the original text, I would just point out that it’s just my own view. Your mileage may vary and, if networking works for you, go right ahead. I’m not trying to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do.

    One key observation, I think, is that everyone gravitates towards what they like doing. I’ve taught myself web design and SEO because I enjoy those disciplines, and now I reap the benefit of that. And I think everyone is similar. We see the world as we are, not as it is.

    I think those who talk about attending events despite ‘not wanting to’ aren’t quite getting it. I’m not talking about a mild irritation, like when you have to get up early, or do the washing up. I’m talking about genuine, physically felt anxiety – for many hours before, during and after the event. The humour in my post perhaps obscures this, but I think a lot of commenters know what I’m talking about.

    I spent enough years as an employee interacting with people I didn’t like, doing things I didn’t enjoy. As a freelance, you’d better believe I’m going to focus on fun – as Sally says. What’s the point otherwise? There’s quite enough stress, worry and insecurity to be had just building a business without ladling social anxiety over the top as well.

    Others have mentioned building ‘profile’ or ‘community’. I respect that, but personal/local is just one way to go. Through online channels, I’ve built a profile that brings me enquiries from all over the world, and a network of literally hundreds of fellow professionals.

    It might not be that healthy to do it all through a screen, and it might not be taking me beyond my comfort zone, but I’ll tell you what – it really works.

    And at the end of the day, I switch it off to go and network with the people who really are important in my life.

    Thanks again to everyone for their views.

  • I am so surprised that this is genuinely how you feel.
    Perhaps I have been incredibly lucky in my networking experiences. Wil this is your opinion and I totally respect it can I counter with the following?

    1) Scary – Is it really? Ok you might be a little nervous at meeting new people, but trust me most people feel the same, and if the event is well organised you should be greeted and introduced to a few likeminded people.

    2) Egotistical – I am an avid netowrker and have never heard myself described in this way. I have a website (That screams fabulous things about my business) is that Egotistical? I am however passionate about my business and don’t mind talking about it. In the same way I like to learn about other business’ and speak to other business owners and listen and hopefully learn something along the way.

    3) It really doesn’t have to be I pay as little as £5 and as much as £30 for events I attend – It’s a business expense and at the end of the day a great investment.

    4) Ineffective – Rubbish! in my opinion you are approaching networking all wrong! It is not about what you can sell there and then. It’s about forging relationships and making contacts, so that when someone ask their friend if they know a good copywriter, they think of you! Admittedly this can be a waiting game but trust me it pays dividends. I met a man in 2008 at a networking event I heard from him a few weeks ago and now we are working on a substantial project with him.

    5) Waste of Time – It is if you want immediate benefits, you never know who you might meet and there is always a positive to be taken away from these meetings. Even if it is not to go back to that group again but try somewhere else if you didn’t like the tone of the meeting.

    6) It’s Insincere – It’s very easy to get an attendance list and speak to people that you feel you might have a common interest – Web people – Marketing people. If you get stuck with the boring Rivet Man, make your excuses and move on!

    7) I have never been to a boring networking meeting. Why are you bored? What’s boring about meeting new people and finding out who they are what they do and who they might know?

    I suggest trying again from a different angle……

  • Hmmm. Not sure about all this, Tom.

    You can never know too much about Aloe Vera (and I live for the day that I meet a ‘Forever Living’ franchisee called Vera).

    Likewise Utilities Warehouse and pellets to put in your petrol tank.

    But networking isn’t all education. There’s ‘fun’ too. People in grey suits often make up hilarious rhymes which are always received with raucous laughter. Just the thing you need at 7.30 in the morning.

    And there’s more, too – but for that you have to buy my new e-book – ‘Brekky Net’ – 1000 fun tips for serious breakfasters’…

  • I can empathise with both points of view here but please don’t tar all ‘networking’ with the same brush.

    At the last count there were over 50 business networking organisations in Cambridge so whether you are looking for referrals, friendship, inspiration, to sell, learn, get support or just have company to eat breakfast lunch and supper on every day of the week there is something for every taste. There are networks for techies, geeks, creatives, people who live in the same village, want to export, like to hear good speakers, women only, women in science, startups, CEOs, industry specific and many more with, seemingly, more starting every month.

    The structured events that run to a prescribed format are reassuring for some and restrictive to others. The freewheeling “talk to who you like but don’t do a sales pitch” attract folk who are socially adept but terrify anyone who is remotely shy. Standing up to do an elevator pitch can be challenging, boring or fun. Listening to a room full of other people doing elevator pitches can be equally challenging, boring or fun. Discussions can be enervating or excruciating depending on who is taking part.

    The ability to connect to other people on line as part of the networking process is becoming increasingly important to some folk but others couldn’t care less.

    Having observed the behaviour of people in many different situations, one thing is constant. The people who get the most out of networking are those who are really interested in other people, not just in their businesses but in what makes them tick. Those who are genuinely curious and ask questions and really listen to the answers will always get more from the experience.

    Lets face it, we can find out what anyone ‘does’ as a business from looking at their web site but the only way to find out who they are and if they are the kind of person you’d like to do business with or refer to your contacts is to get to know their opinions and values and what it is that drives them.

    In some ways I believe the ritualistic organisations have done us all a great disservice by teaching people ‘how to’ network. I’d like to slap the person who came up with the idea of an elevator pitch as it usually proves to be just another barrier to getting to know the real person.

    I know many people who work alone who get a huge amount of support and friendship from their networking pals and deepen their friendships through the social networks. On the other hand if you and your business are doing OK without this activity what’s the big deal? Why spend time and money on something you manage very well without? Which makes me wonder why you wrote this post in the first place ….

  • This one could run and run. Here’s another blog which is in total contrast to Tom’s POV. http://bit.ly/9PPtgc Apparently networking is the new religion!

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  • Great post – and you’ve clearly hit a nerve! But I agree with other commenters; every networking event is different and while some are truly awful, others can be relaxed and very pleasant.

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  • Dee Lane

    The emperor wears no clothes (especially when reciting an elevator speech at a network function).

    Here are some reasons why I think this way:

    1) The origin of the elevator speech is from the 1988 movie “Working Girl”, where Melanie Griffith gives her sales in an elevator. So much for any validity there. Besides pitching yourself is boring and uncouth.

    2) Most networking events are busy work that make money for their hosts. They provide few benefits for the attendees, other than feel good stuff for extraverts. For us introverts, it’s just another migraine headache, and I don’t find those fun. In fact, there seems to be a whole lot for profit hangers on just to get a job. So far, I’ve seen $1200 go out the door, and have not seen a single interview.

    3) In order to get/give referrals or leads, you have to take time to build a relationship. I own a small house rental business, but have renovated several houses over the last 20 years. I have a great, organic network of contractors, because we’ve all worked together for years…not because I went to some “networking” function.

    4) I also work in IT, and need a job now. Unfortunately, I don’t have the connections in the IT world that I do in house rentals, and being on the outside looking in, I’m not likely to build any more connections being on the outside. If I’m lucky enough to re-enter my field, it will be because of someone I already know, not because of I attended some network function.

    5) Going to contrived network function is a waste, especially if everyone else there is unemployed. In my renovation/landlord role, I can refer people to contractors or possibly offer a rental. However, most unemployed people don’t have money for rent or contractors, so I have nothing to offer them. Also, when employers show up at these events, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel because they know that everyone there is unemployed…and they will take full advantage of it and lowball you.

    6) If “everyone” is doing networking and giving elevator speeches, and I also do it, how does this make me stand out?

    7) I’m always skeptical when the thundering herd races after a fad. After all, 5 years ago the herd obtained massive debts, and virtually everyone was telling me to do the same. I stayed in my paid for but old house, car, etc…and guess who the landlord is now? Networking and elevator speeches will be regarded as just another fad in 5 years or less.

    8) Saying that we’re “doing it wrong” is convenient way of blaming the participant, and thus avoiding the admission that superficial networking functions are ineffective.

  • Whenever I go to a networking event I walk into the room and always say to myself “Why did I do this?”. Where else would you walk into a room full of strangers (some of them are very strange) and start talking openly to them. This is exactly what my mother taught me not to do! Yet I still do it. Why? We get most of our new business from referrals and our website. We are a web design company and its an extremely competitive industry as everyone thinks they can buy Dreamweaver and be a webdesigner!

    The reason I go to networking events once or twice a month is because I’ve finally figured out how you to do it. Networking is about building a network of business people you get on with, talk to about business issues, state of the nation and have a good moan. And guess what? Over time you start liking each other and recommending each other. If you walk out of a network event with aload of business cards and depressed because you haven’t got any business then you’re in the wrong mindset, it won’t work.

    Networking groups have worked hard to become more informal and relaxed but it is still a daunting process for un-confident people. I have got business and leads from networking but it has taken time and has come from obscure sources. For it to work you need to give more than you take. Sermon over.

  • Dee Lane

    Mark, you’re missing the point here. I don’t need networking to run my rental business–I would also like to have an IT job for which I was trained.

    With the rental business, I already have a network…with IT, I don’t…going to a bunch of expensive functions will not help me with the IT part.

    I don’t need “touchy feely” stuff; I need interviews; I truly hate “group grope” stuff. i don’t have the energy to tolerate groups…I’m an introvert who’d really rather not interact. It’s too energy draining for me…

    So tell me, how do you get there from here???

  • I was a member of BNI, and I found it a draining experience. The newly created chapter I belonged to never got off the ground, and ultimately disbanded after a year or so. I know it works for others, but I offer a niche service of tree stump removal with a specialist stump grinding machine.. When I paid my subs—a considerable amount for a one man band—I naively thought it to be a sure fire way to schmooze within the business community with the hope of a viral spread by word of mouth. I regularly visited other BNI chapters. It just never happened for me. Never mind! Once bitten,—–.

  • Dee Lane

    Once again, the anecdotal evidence defies “common knowledge”. I’d like to see a real, double-blind scientific study that shows precisely how effective networking actually is.


    1) How many people actually got jobs or additional business by attending these networking functions.

    2) Did anyone ever get a job using an elevator speech?

    Please do not quote the 70% statistic…there is absolutely no scientific basis for that number. Yes, it’s from the BLS, however, the breakdown is of that number is in reality, 30% of jobs are never available to anyone outside of the company, 40% of hiring decision made involve the candidate knowing someone inside the company, and the remaining 30% of hiring is done via advertising.

    The 70% figure is calculated by adding the insider only jobs to the know someone inside jobs. However, for anyone on the outside looking in, the 40% of jobs that are for insiders only are not available to outsiders.

    Frankly, I’m still going to skip those networking functions; they don’t work for me either.

  • Nat

    I quite like networking, although it’s difficult when you come across companies that have used really bad copywriters in the past, and they’re extremely skeptical as to what copywriters can offer them now.

    Mike Lish- I’m a BNI member, and I joined when setting up my copywriting business. It must have been really hard for you, being so specialised, within a new chapter because some chapters just don’t work that well. I’ve found it really useful for me, and I’ve got quite a lot of work out of it. Maybe if you ever tried it again, you should go for a chapter with a strong gardening and building focus? I do find it draining though, and it’s a killer getting up so early to network twice a week sometimes!

    Dee Lane: All my business comes through networking, referrals and word of mouth. It doesn’t work for every business, but it’s always worked for me.

  • As copywriters tend to be more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word it’s perhaps not surprising that some of us don’t feel entirely comfortable at networking events.

    In my experience though as long as you’re selective about which networking events you attend they can be useful, even for copywriters.

  • I used to do BNI. Poured heart and soul into it.

    Next time you go to an organised networking event, ask how many people are there to sell. Then ask how many are there to buy.

  • Dee Lane

    As I predicted in an earlier post, I was hired by someone I’ve known for nearly 20 years. I did not attend any networking events, nor did I ever do an elevator speech. And I saved a lot of money and stress.

  • On a lighter note, some of these networking events would provide great comedy sitcom fodder for someone like Ricki Gervais!

  • Ha, I was just Googling copywriting network events to promote my freelance services (I work full-time as a Copywriter but the commute is a bitch) and then I saw this:

    ‘It’s ineffective. ‘I’m looking for a copywriter actually. In fact, that’s why I came here today.’ Just one of the things I will never, ever hear at a networking event. Because when my prospects want my services, they go straight to the web, or to a colleague for a recommendation. Not to a hotel near the airport’

    And TOTALLY agreed.

    Spot on.

  • Plus Emma from 2010…

    ‘Egotistical – I am an avid netowrker’

    She won’t understand your rant as a Copywriter… she can’t even spell.

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  • …And I thought I was the only one!
    Networking is okay if you can make contact with people who require work, then move onto the next.
    Breakfast clubs and such I can’t see the point of to meet up with the same group of people each time to potentially get work from…. Meet them once and give them a ring!
    The best networking events I’ve ever been to are ones are setup almost like speed dating. Prior to the meet up, people looking to stuff tell the organisers what they are looking for, and suppliers are potential linked up with them. They get a short period of time to talk, then they move on to the next person.

  • disqus_W4KjfaOksA

    Hi Tom, I normally agree with most of what you write, but I must say that I disagree with practically every point you have listed. To me, networking is the ultimate form of marketing. Like you, I’m a copywriter and I’ve picked up some very good clients from networking events. I suggest that you possibly go into events with the wrong mindset. Networking is all about getting to understand other people’s businesses as well as talking about your own. It works the same as social media: to be effective you should share other people’s material more than you post.

  • Tam

    Hahaha, love this post. Totally concur and very funny. I always think there is something a bit desperate about them too.

  • disqus_W4KjfaOksA

    I’m surprised you don’t like networking, Tom. Personally, I have found networking to be extremely beneficial and have gained plenty of work from it. Like you, I am a firm believer in blogging and social media. However, I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket. My strategy: The more people I know, online and off, the better.