"It's all about who you know." Common business advice. I don't doubt the value of knowing the right people, but there's a much better way to build relationships than going to events, meetings, or hitting the "Connect" button on LinkedIn.
Three years ago, when we were just starting our company, Crew, there were interesting people I wanted to get to know. But many politely brushed me off. I wasn't offended. I realized I hadn't earned their attention. I wanted to meet them because they did something interesting. The problem was, I hadn't done anything interesting.
So instead of focusing my energy on fighting for their attention, I focused on making something interesting. I started our company and wrote about our experience along the way. I went to almost no events, took hardly any meetings, and didn't pay attention to LinkedIn.
Now, a few years later, our company is in a much different position. We've been fortunate enough to create two online platforms used by millions of people. And our writing is read by hundreds of thousands of people each month.
Recently, I ran into one of the people who was not interested in meeting in our early days. He told me he followed our work and was amazed. This time, though, I didn't have to ask him to meet. He asked me. He had so much enthusiasm about our business, I felt like I was talking to a different person.
Networking for us today has become much easier than it was a few years ago. But this only happened because we focused on our work first. Good work gets you noticed. It makes you stand out. Think of the people in your industry you respect. It's almost guaranteed they made something interesting that attracted you to them. Once you're interesting, people want to talk to you. You tip the scale in your favor. The people you want to meet start to want to meet you.
The beautiful thing about using your work to build your network is it's much more efficient than networking only through events and meetings. You don't have to rush a one-minute pitch to each person.
I have a relationship with many people simply through their work. I even feel like I have better connections with some of these people than people I've met. I see what they create and what they talk about. Sometimes we chat on Twitter or email. Sure, I would love to meet these people who inspire me. But if I don't, I still feel a connection.
By focusing on your work, a good network of people naturally follows. But the reverse is not true. If you don't contribute any interesting work and only focus your time on networking, you will fight an uphill battle. You may build a network but it will take much longer and will be much harder. Anyone can network. We can all meet for a coffee or drink. But we can't all make that meeting memorable.
Even if I'd spent most of my time going to events and meetings in our early days, there's still no way we would have met the people we have. And there's no chance we would have been able to create our company. Just as a meeting or event is a way to meet people, so too is your work. The difference with work as a medium for networking is your network is a byproduct rather than the product.
No doubt you can strengthen relationships through offline meetings. Reach doesn't matter without depth. But there's a balance. Focus on making something great first. Not that next networking event. You don't have the attention of the people you want to know until you've done something worthy of their attention.
Do the work first and your network will fall in place.