There are 450 million active users on LinkedIn. And I swear half of them want to take me out for coffee. I get these requests on a regular basis and I always find it strange. Mostly because I do not know most of the senders. It is akin to a stranger on the street asking, “Hey, how about a quick latte?”
I do not want to be rude. But no, I am not interested in getting a latte to “get to know each other.” And I am not interested in meeting just for the sake of meeting. I am sure that you are a terrific person, but I just do not have time. And neither do you actually.
This type of “empty networking” might feel productive at the moment you hit send. But it will ultimately leave you right where you started — no closer to making a connection or your real goals.
Anyone doing important work does not have time for endless glad-handing. That is because it rarely adds value. It is more about trying to find something to do than knowing exactly what you should be doing.
Of course, there is value in building a meaningful network of trusted colleagues and advisors. But when I am struggling with a particular issue, I rarely find the solution with someone who is more or less a stranger. I am more likely to turn to my established network — mentors, former colleagues, and the team at Aha! And if I need some expert advice that no one I know has, I look to these individuals to recommend people in their network to me. I then ask for a warm introduction.
Building a meaningful network is not about attending unstructured industry mixers or wracking up the most LinkedIn connections. It requires relationships — and those take hard work, dedication, and time.
These types of relationships are typically developed with people that have proven to be dependable. And it often takes years to forge those lasting bonds and fortify mutual trust. However, if you put in the effort to go deep — past random connections — you will find valuable people you already know who are anxious to help when you ask.
Here is how:
When you need to ask for help, put some thought behind the ask. Requests should be clear, meaningful, and directed at the right person whom you know or a trusted connection knows. Sending a random request to a random person will likely get you ignored or marked as spam.
You may think that you need to embellish achievements, couch requests, or act bullishly to build your network. How is that helping anyone? At Aha!, one of our key values is open, honest communication. We develop meaningful relationships as a result. Take this approach and you will naturally develop close connections.
Invest in colleagues
Too often we look outside our organization for growth when our greatest assets are the people we work with daily. Get to know your colleagues. Swap ideas, resources, and weekend stories. Prove to them that you are a hard worker. Over time, you will develop lasting bonds. So when you do need a favor some day, it will be an easy ask.
If you reach out to someone for help and they respond, get back to them right away. Do not schedule a lunch or coffee later — that only delays deepening the relationship. Or, if you are on the receiving end of a request that you cannot help with, quickly let the asker know so they can go elsewhere. Either way, they will appreciate your responsiveness and think of you in the future.
Look for useful ways to help the people you work with or who have helped you in the past. Could they benefit from an introduction or some transparent feedback? Maybe there is a new opportunity you can share? Remember that building a strong network goes both ways — you have to invest to get back.
Success comes to those who establish themselves as hard-working and trustworthy. Focus on this, and you will develop a network of people who will want to help you reach your goals.
I am sure I would enjoy meeting with you. You probably have a lot to bring to the conversation. But I can bet that we both have more productive things to do.
Do you think networking is still important for business?