From time-to-time, I hear the saying “Your network is your net worth”. Though I do not completely agree with that statement because I do think that your “net worth” should be more so defined compositely by one’s competencies, domain knowledge, and their network, I do believe that networking and peopling are undervalued notions when business is initially introduced to students. Today, I share why it is important to foster long-term business relationships and how young entrepreneurs can approach building said relationships.
1. Attend Networking events
Nowadays, with the surge in digital resources, including social media networks such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, among others, it has become increasingly easy to reach people. However, one thing that has not changed despite the world becoming more digitized is the notion that it’s not who you know but rather who you know well. It’s important to clarify that people who you’ve spoken to once over the phone are not necessarily people you’ve provided value to.
As former Paypal Chief People Officer Marcia Morales-Jaffe shared with me:
“It is [often] important to meet someone once in-person – then we can move to calls to save time”.
Though the surge of digital networking tools has made it easier to meet people, it has not taken away the necessity for in-person communication.
So networking events are very still useful for sure in terms of planting a seed in a relationship, having that initial communication, and getting to exchange contacts and set up a platform for further discussion.
And fortunately, networking events are very common nowadays. They’re held all the time, and many great ones are free. For instance, Twitter has been known to hold them from time to time and Startup Grind is known to hold monthly events quite locally.
The essence of in-person networking events is that most everyone at these meetups do not know each other and the platform that they provide removes the tension in talking to a stranger – an absolutely great environment to go into confidently, and an unequivocally great place for a young entrepreneur to hear what others are up to and find future business partners. Speaking to people directly removes the doubt in cold-emailing, for you are sure to receive a response, whether that be one of interest or otherwise.
2. Prioritize value-add
The truth is, however, you won’t be able to create value for most of the people at these meet-ups, and vice-versa, most people won’t be able to create significant value for you.
Because of this, it makes it all the more important to try to talk to as many people as you can, more with your potential partners, less with those you cannot provide value for.
A connection is only as good as the value that two or more individuals can provide one another. It is fallacious to think about networking as a way to meet more people to gain from – truly strong business relationships are ones where both parties can provide one another with genuine value, value that oftentimes cannot be measured solely financially.
It’s important to be cognizant of the fact that your resources are finite, so you should, colloquially, pick the right battles. Though it may seem that good opportunities are abundant, you just simply don’t have the resources necessary to help anyone and everyone. Likewise, others are thinking the same way. Though one may resonate heavily with your values, chances are they may have a variety of other opportunities on the table.
But you’re the one who is in control of setting up your self-worth. In my experience, people who voluntarily provide value before you even ask them, people who think of relationships not in a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” fashion are the ones who are connections worth keeping. And because it’s important to be empathetic with value-add, being a selfless individual in providing value to those one truly resonates with will allow you to get ahead in the long run in terms of building genuinely strong relationships.
3. Be personable in relationship management
Though one may think that networking is difficult as far as putting oneself out there in speaking to strangers, in my view managing relationships is actually monumentally more difficult. In my view, networking events will serve as a spark in a relationship – it does not define one.
In many respects, your goal in networking should be to stop going to networking events at some point, which is to say that you should not be meeting people all the time and you should instead be looking to grow relationships that you’ve cultivated.
This means following up with people you’ve met, keeping tabs with others’ work, and constantly thinking of ways within your own capacity to provide help to others, possibly before one reaches out to you for help. You should do so with no expectation to receive any value back – such is the nature of value add, because if you’re expecting something in return for your work at the end of the day, you’re likely growing a materialistic relationship rather than one worth keeping in the long run.
So yes, it is essential to understand the value of networking and peopling, that connections do matter and networking events can often be a crucial link between two or more people that ends up becoming something much more than just a conversation. Finding a business partner, wanting to meet new, interesting people, exposing yourself to different, unique, and interesting viewpoints – these can all begin with just one networking event, one conversation. But always remember that meeting someone is just one part of a relationship – a relatively insignificant one honestly.
Networking is too often thought of as a way to grow your “net worth” in terms of meeting people who are better than one – and that is a valid way to think about self-improvement, that it is important to meet others who are better than you, those who have a domain expertise that you are likewise interested in developing. But fundamentally, relationships begin with value-add so it’s time to think about how you’re going to be valuable to people before you start seeking value from others.
Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.