For many people, the prospect of building a network is daunting. It requires putting yourself out there, and for any number of people, this constitutes being confident in ways that may not come naturally. But because so much of life seems to depend on who you know and who you can get access to, networking seems to be, at the very least for some people, a necessary pain.
But in so many ways it need not feel this daunting and arduous.
Why Networking Sucks
Make no mistake, meeting people can be difficult if schmoozing doesn’t come naturally. But the mistake to avoid making is in the perspective of how you go about “building your network” as opposed to how you should actually perceive going about it.
The fact of the matter is that “networking” as something we do — something we go to events for, listen to motivational talks on, read how-to books on — is presented in an overblown way. In so many words, it’s overrated and superficial.
AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant tweeted it so concisely just a few days ago:
Anyone who’s ever been to a networking event has more than likely experienced a similar reality: many of the other people there are there to drop titles, salaries, company names, and other supposedly impressive credentials. These, in turn, are meant to persuade other “targets” at the event that Person A is too important not to notice and/or connect with. It’s why so many of these events are dry, useless, and why so many successful founders, VC’s, and business operators simply forgo them.
So If Building a “Network” Doesn’t Work, What Does?
So what does work?
In short: relationships.
Where the act of networking fails, relationships succeed over and over again. Networking events feel transactional; relationships feel genuine.
Where networking comes across as superficial and self-serving, relationships immediately feel more symbiotic and mutually beneficial. And where the former requires a somewhat unnatural, car-salesman-esque confidence, the latter relies simply on one’s innate personality.
It’s a fair point to note that relationships require much more effort and more time than “networking” does; after all, networking is done by handing someone your business card, and relationships can take months, if not years to cultivate. Most people don’t want to spend the time or effort to do that kind of work.
And they only do themselves a disservice for their laziness.
Time Is on Your Side
The first basic thing to understand is that time is on your side when building relationships. Utilize it. Be willing to do the work that it takes, usually over a longer period of time than any “networking” event usually runs. Put in the hours — don’t be lazy.
Once you shift your mindset from transactional networking to focusing on long-term relationships, a lot of the intimidating — and therefore daunting — parts begin to take care of themselves. The prospect of having to prove to someone else that you’re worth their time works quietly in the background as the relationship develops. Instead of heading to a networking event and trying to get someone to meet up for a follow-up coffee (something VC’s especially seem to detest), understand that there’s no reason anyone should make time for you after 20 minutes of talking (unless you’re a really good talker).
Relationships happen naturally; they can’t be calculated to work in a specific time frame and they can’t be forced. Natural development — as slow and tedious as it might seem in some moments — actually helps to strengthen the potential relationships precisely because it doesn’t feel cheap and transactional.
I have never had good outcomes when I’ve tried to force relationships in the past. The best thing to do is make patience one of your virtues — things will happen in the right time frame. And I say this as someone who isn’t a patient person by default — I’ve worked very hard to become a more patient man. All of this, though, will yield a much better result in the long run than any networking event ever could.