“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”
The old adage is trotted out as often as ever, and still drives droves to conferences, networking events, and anywhere they think they might be able to put a business card in the right hands. The wheels of business are greased by human connections, and whether you’re in the corner office or the warehouse, you’ll find your professional life a whole lot easier if your contact database is overflowing with useful names.
Nowadays, with the social networking phenomenon growing almost to the point of market saturation, many amongst us default to a digital outreach in order to expand our professional circle. While just twenty years ago initiating a connection via the internet was almost unthinkable, entrepreneurs now make daily use of LinkedIn, the de facto starting point for online networking, which in 2015 reported revenues of just shy of three billion dollars. It is undoubtedly easier than ever to find and engage potential business partners than ever before, and with such obvious advantages in that form of outreach, why bother with anything else?
Take a moment now to think about the last five people you paid over $1000 for their services. How many of those have shaken your hand? The answer in most cases will be “all five”. Even in the digital age, we value face-to-face interactions more highly than digital connections [hyperlink to previous article], and tend to trust those we’ve met in person more than a name attached to a profile image.
Now take a look at the last twenty people you’ve added on LinkedIn. How many of those are people whose business or partnership you’d be interested in pursuing? And of that group, how many have you met in person? If the second number is less than the first, you have work to do. That LinkedIn connection is certainly worth something, but real business is done in the real world, and without that personal touch you’re unlikely to move past the initial contact stage.
Speaking more broadly, then, it’s clear that if nothing else there’s a point of diminishing efficiency to online networking. When only somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of emails are even opened – let alone acknowledged – you’re already seeing many of your attempts to connect fall on deaf ears. Given that the average professional sends and receives an astonishing number of emails annually, we may all be spending hours every month spinning our wheels, firing off emails into digital purgatory.
As a final exercise, consider how much time you spend digging through your inbox, and filling other people’s. Now, if you were to dedicate a tenth of that time every month to pursuing other networking channels – anything from event attendance to stopping by a potential partner’s office – would you miss any deals? What if you shaved your digital networking time by twenty percent? Try to pare those efforts back to your efficiency threshold, and use the extra hours elsewhere, comparing results month-on-month. There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself with more meetings, more meaningful connections and, ultimately, more business at the end of it.