In Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book “Thou Shall Prosper”, Rabbi Lapin talks about how many Jewish traditions encourage regular community gatherings. While it is never meant primarily for the purpose of networking, inevitably after events or before there is chatter of how life is going, what people are up to and their work will arise. When that happens, networking is inevitable.
All things being equal, people would rather do business with those they know, like and trust.
That leads me to question traditional networking, where each person is thrusting business cards at each other in blind hope someone will give them a lead. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of networking groups that I’ve heard wonderful things about. Ones that are half sales-training and half crowd-source sales support. Others groups I’ve been told about are more casual gatherings which simply allow networking to occur. Many of these groups strictly only allow one business owner of each industry/niche to be in each branch – removing the chance of competition and bad feelings.
I don’t have a lot of experience with traditional networking, but I think Rabbi Lapin has it pretty spot on that the best networking doesn’t happen in places specifically designed for networking. The best leads come from unconventional networking.
Unconventional networking is just building relationships with groups of like-minded people. Being a part of a cause you care about, teaching those less fortunate, giving of your time and energy, joining various clubs, especially ones with speaking opportunities like Toastmasters. These are just a few of the places you might go to begin unconventional networking.
I’ll give you a fascinating thing that just happened to me last week. About a month ago I started chatting with a part-time coworker just to get to know her better. She talked about her husband’s game development company Mommy’s Best Games.
(Here is a shameless plug for his company, very niche, very old-school, kind of eclectic games for the Xbox.) I mentioned my father used to repair old arcade systems and that was really as far as the conversation went. It was pleasant, we got to know each other better, end of the story.
But it wasn’t the end, because a month later she came to me with an event idea her husband was preparing. They were looking for an arcade system to put out front of the event to draw attention and participants for a ‘pop-up’ arcade demonstrating their games. She remembered my father had worked on arcade systems and asked if he had any still stored somewhere. He did, and I got the pair in contact with each other so that hopefully they’ll work something out.
Would that have happened if we hadn’t had an innocent relationship building moment a month beforehand? Probably not.
Another instance: I’m preparing to launch my business Marketing Mechanics and really gather steam, but like any entrepreneur there are things I don’t know. So I contacted a wonderful small business owner, Maggie Harlow of Signarama Downtown, who happens to be a part of the same Toastmasters group with me. She generously agreed to have a coffee with me and let me pick her brain for ideas and feedback. It was a very worthwhile time and I’m grateful for the chance to talk with someone who has been where I’m at and moved on to great success. She also gave me several leads and contacts to get in touch with for further brain-picking.
There’s a reason Maggie and Signarama Downtown are doing so well. Her company displays the same sort of generosity, humanity and creativity she was willing to share with me at our meet-up.
This is unconventional networking at it’s best. It’s not a one-way street, even when it seems to be. The purpose isn’t to gain business, although that inevitably follows in some manner. The purpose is to build relationships, to make connections and to help others. That generosity, that friendship becomes an indispensable tool for your marketing.
If you haven’t, by the way, consider reading “Thou Shall Prosper” by Rabbi David Lapin. It’s a revealing look into what makes prosperity, no matter what your faith.