I spend a heck of a lot of my time, during the summer, at the beach. It’s not all fun and games. I spend most of that time trying to keep my kids from either drowning or burying each other in the sand. But we’re extraordinarily lucky to have a family cottage just a few minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire province. It’s also a pretty good place to find clients.
I’m a huge fan of networking. But I also happen to think that networking is usually done terribly, terribly wrong. Networking, typically, is when a group of people who want things from a different group of people stand in a room drinking beer and pretending they don’t actually want anything from each other while trying to figure out the right time to ask for the thing that they want. I happen to think that’s the wrong way to do things.
My favourite way to network is by building relationships rather than handing out a business card. So when I meet someone, I talk to them. I ask a lot of questions. And I do a lot of that on the beach. My son likes to adopt families at the beach. He’ll wander over somewhere and introduce himself and within minutes he’ll begin building a sandcastle or splashing in the waves with his new friend and I’ll end up making a new friend in the form of their parents. We chat. Where are you from? Do you come to this beach a lot? And then I usually ask what they do.
I ask because I’m genuinely interested in learning what people do and how they do it. I’ve met sales people, soldiers, politicians, musicians, artists, administrators, teachers, and doctors. I like talking to people. My wife says I could talk to a rock and she’s not wrong. I like talking to people about what they do because I like understanding WHY people do what they do.
I rarely offer up my own story unless asked. If you’re familiar with the cocktail party rule, the idea is that 80% of the conversation shouldn’t be about you. I’ve always done that naturally. If you get me going on a topic you’ll probably have to eventually tell me to shut up, but I like to listen above all else.
So when people finally do ask me what I do, the answer is of course a little interesting. There’s no easy job title for a consultant who builds websites, manages social media, writes blogs on topics ranging from business to childcare, manages a team of freelancers in a small local agency, runs one major conference and helps run a few more, is a regular speaker at three to four conferences per year, has a podcast, and is a full time stay at home father for two. The closest title is “entrepreneur.”
So I often tailor my response to the audience. Sometimes I talk about running an agency, sometimes I talk about running a conference, and sometimes I talk about being a dad. Basically, I talk about whatever resonates with that individual.
Now, I want to stress that all of this isn’t a part of some diabolical business strategy. I don’t act this way because it leads to clients. I act this way and it happens to lead to clients. I’ve had two web builds come from casual conversations on the beach. In neither case did I seek out the work. I’ve gotten clients in the grocery store, at the park, at the playground, at my son’s school, and obviously the beach.
The point of all of this is that networking is important. But more important than networking is building real relationships with real people. If you can do that, you’re going to be just fine.