“How much time do you spend networking?” It’s a question an old university friend, now working as a HR consultant, asked me the other day. I immediately got defensive because a non-executive director had told me, at our last board meeting, that we didn’t do enough off it.
I could see his point because, when I thought about it, I realised that the only networking I do is updating my LinkedIn entry annually, having increasingly occasional lunches with former colleagues and being wheeled out, as if I was a cardboard cut-out, at whatever point in negotiations with a potential client is deemed opportune by the sales director.
So I mumbled an evasive reply of the “probably not as much as I ought to do” variety, and he said: “Don’t worry about it. If I had my time again, I’d devote half the time I spent networking to actually doing something.” At first, I assumed he was joking - after all, according to his LinkedIn entry his hobbies include “recreational downsizing” - but he assured me that he wasn’t. “I’d say at least half the people I networked with were time wasters. And half of the people I really wanted to network with I couldn’t reach,” he said, as he paid for our coffees. (Maths has never been his strong suit.)
I could see his point - even if my sales director couldn’t (and still can’t). When I was 27% more thrusting and dynamic than I am now - probably between 1998 and 2002 - I wasted too much time at events where I was disappointed by the calibre of people and the quality of the insight. And you could tell the hard-core networkers because, even as you were talking to them, their eyes were always peering over your shoulder, looking for bigger game to catch. Usually that meant someone more important, but it could also be the most glamorous woman in the room.
This all makes me sound terribly old school - and that’s probably because I am. That said, I was cheered to hear that Jenny Campbell, the new judge on Dragon’s Den, recently made exactly the same point. She said networking opportunities were less important, when she made her first million, than never missing a deadline. As someone who still aspires to make their first million - although, as Mrs Mole likes to remind me, time is running out - I’m going to follow her example.
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