Remember the old days of Rolodexes, before mobile phones had every gadget and gizmo now known to man (and woman)? Remember when we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to connect with other businesspeople and had to actually, you know, talk to people?
The way many of us network today, using online social networking and keeping track of things via Blackberry, iPhone, PDA and other “smart” devices, is superior in many ways to the “old” way of doing things. However, there’s a lot to be learned by going “old school” with your networking and heading back out into the real world. Today I’ll talk about some of the reasons old school networking outweighs the new 2.0 version, and how you can reconnect with your old school networking roots.
Sure, in the Brave New World of online networking, you can generate infinite LinkedIn connections and five thousand Facebook “friends,” but are they really friends? Are the folks you’ve just connected with people you want to know and do business with? How well can you get to know someone and their business without actually talking to them?
In the 2.0 world of networking, something’s been lost in the connection. These days, a lot of people connect with you just to increase their list of followers. But who are they? Connecting with someone on Facebook or LinkedIn without talking to them and getting to know them is akin to throwing a business card at someone as you walk past them. It’s neither effective nor does it represent your business well.
Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals (a book I highly, highly recommend), writes this golden rule of networking: “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” When you meet someone in person, don’t you get a better sense of whether or not they’re for real than if you meet them online? When you meet someone in person and take the time to get to know them, you can tell if you can trust them and if they’re someone you’d like doing business with, as a potential client, in a joint venture, or if they’re someone you want in your Rolodex to refer business to in the future.
There are tons of statistics that suggest you can reach millions of potential buyers online. But if you’re a solo professional or a small business owner, you may not need to reach millions. You may not even want to reach millions. If your business is local or if you’re a consultant, reaching the international masses online may not make even the slightest sense for your business.
In the old days, people sat down and talked to each other. They got to know one another — not just in terms of business, but personally. They connected with each other’s families, spent time together, and when you threw business someone’s way, you knew and trusted the person and could really count on them to handle the business you sent them.
So how can you get back to basics and go “old school” with your networking? For one, the kind of old school networking I’m talking about isn’t the kind you find in networking groups and events. It’s about enriching your life while also enriching your business. Now’s the time to volunteer and get involved and active in your local community. Get to know the other volunteers and their families. Expand your net of friends and business associates. Connect with your alumni group from college, join your local Chamber of Commerce. Sign up for just-for-fun sports leagues. These are the ways in which people used to network and these connections are stronger and farther-reaching than those of your Twitter followers.
Stop worrying about “qualifying prospects” and instead, get to know people. And as you hang out after a ball game, nursing a beer with your fellow players, remember that while you may not be talking to an actual prospect at that moment, you never know who that person knows. You may not have a direct business connection with someone, but you could very well gain indirect business through that connection.
Ok, so it’s great to have your phone or PDA up-to-date with all your networking contacts at the touch of a fingertip. But if you’re going to go old school, consider really going old school.
Believe it or not, studies have shown that technology can create social barriers in interpersonal interactions. First, it can disrupt the flow of conversation. Imagine your phone ringing while the person you’re with is talking. Not only are they distracted by the ringing, but they don’t know if you’re going to answer the call or not.
Second, it can get between you and the person. Did you ever notice the way people transform when they bring out their technology to schedule a meeting on their digital calendars? Instead of going tech to book a time, keep a pocket-sized Moleskine calendar handy and schedule it in pen. Not only will the meeting seem more important because it’s in indeliable ink and can’t be deleted, but you won’t be disconnected from the social interaction. If you really need to take notes during a meeting, don’t use your Blackberry. Instead, keep a Moleskine notebook and a pen in your pocket and bring it out when you need it.
On the surface, technology seems great, because it promises a great time and personal energy savings. So we think it fixes everything. But sometimes, using technology for things we used to do in person can reduce our effectiveness. Although I’ve argued for an old school approach to networking in this article, I personally prefer a hybrid approach to networking. Use technology to support and follow up on your in person networking. And if you can’t network in certain locations in person, use the online world to bring those places to you. But never forget the key component to networking: getting to know people. Build relationships and you’ll reap huge rewards.
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