I was recently on a conference call with Jay Abraham, who is one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs and business consultants. In 2000, Forbes listed Abraham as one of the top five executive coaches in the U.S., and he is estimated to have over 15,000 business success stories under his belt. In one sentence he perfectly summed up why every entrepreneur should always be thinking about their network:
"The easiest, safest, lowest-cost, highest-yielding, risk-free way to grow any business is to structure relationships with as many people as possible."
The problem is that, in my experience, "conventional" methods for creating a valuable network just don't work.
Networking events are just not worth your time.
In my experience with business and networking, instead of looking for people who can give you help, you should always be looking for opportunities where you can give others help. With that in mind, I'm going to tell you that networking events (where the sole purpose is to interact and network with people) are a complete waste of time. Why? Well, there are a few commonalities at these events....
The people you actually want to develop relationships with--the big players--are not spending their time at events like this. But perhaps more importantly, the people who do frequent these events tend to be using them simply to further their own goals. They're looking for people who can give to them, without thinking about how they can give to others. These are not the types of people you want to form relationships with.
I have gone to dozens of networking-specific events and have never interacted with any of the participants outside of the event itself. I firmly believe this is not a coincidence. In addition to the problems outlined above, it's hard to form real friendships and connections when you're in that kind of environment.
I don't waste my time at networking events anymore, and you shouldn't either.
Join groups that interest you.
Out of all the networking I've done, the vast majority of fruitful connections I've made have come from a handful of mastermind groups that I'm involved in. This is because these groups naturally attract people with similar interests to me. In fact, most of the entrepreneurial groups require applicants to prove that their business is generating a minimum yearly income. These are people that I'm guaranteed to not only get along with, but connect with on a deep level.
Genius Network is a fantastic mastermind group dedicated to helping high-level entrepreneurs grow their businesses. I've been a member for years, and I owe most of my business connections to Genius Network because it's incredibly easy to connect with fellow members. We're all interested in the same things, we all have similar goals and aspirations, and we all understand that the best way to progress with our businesses is to help each other and create mutually beneficial relationships.
I've mentioned masterminds, but you could really look for any group that has people with a common interest. Whether it's a swimming club, copywriting group, or a yoga retreat--the important thing is that it contains a group of like-minded people who you can easily bond with.
My one piece of advice to anyone looking to grow their network would be to only join groups that interest you. Never join groups or go to events with the sole intention of networking or "making connections." That is a waste of your time.
What is true networking?
The reason I am so heavily opposed to networking events is because true "networking" is all about creating friendships. All of my business connections are not business connections--they're friends.
I am writing this article while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, staying at the house of a friend I met through Genius Network. Amidst plenty of other business brainstorming, just this morning we developed an idea for a partnership between our two businesses. I came here to hang out and enjoy some time off with my friend...and look what happened. In my experience, this is how business deals are made.
I recently went to a meditation retreat in Arizona--thrown by Dina Kaplan, founder of The Path--that is catered towards high-level entrepreneurs who are interested in meditation. I met Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, there, and in the past month since the event, I've had dinner with 15 of the 50 people who attended. These people are my friends, and we look forward to seeing each other. Although we do all own businesses, that's not the basis of our friendship.
Focus on giving, join groups that interest you, and stay away from networking for the sake of networking. If you can do that, your business will thank you.