Jim Duffy: Is networking really that important nowadays?

Attending networking sessions, business breakfasts, conferences and events can be worthwhile, but this form of networking takes time, effort, money, and a serious tolerance for BS.

Simply turning up at networking events and dishing out business cards is not the ideal strategy, argues Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth

It’s easy to gather a whole bucket full of business cards, which you can later use to stoke the fire, or organize and segment into useful contacts for the future. But in gathering them, all the energy you’ve used comes with a price tag. So is it worth it?

I recall undergoing a bank of tests for my application to the Saltire Fellowship, which revealed I was not much of a networking type of fellow.

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In my interview to get in, I was asked about this. I stated simply that I was not much of a schmoozer and not overly comfortable in those types of situations. I’m still not, and to be honest I avoid them like the plague. But, as I get a little older, I am happy to be proactive and attend one of two of these gathering every few months.

My deciding factor in going is whether I like the venue or the keynote speaker, or, if I’ve been asked to go, whether I like the person who has asked me. In short, whether I value them.

Anyone who is trying to get started or grow something in business has to get networking. There you go – I said it – I approve of networking. Gosh, that was hard… but I admit there is real value in getting out there and getting your face known.

But to simply turn up constantly at networking events, thrust your business card in someone’s face and hope for the best, while guzzling three coffees and two bacon rolls, is not the ideal strategy, I would suggest.

I’m more about looking for one or two people I want to meet and making sure I leave an impression on them. Again, this comes back to the return on investment, that investment being my time.

A major thing to consider also is what you say, when asked: what is it you do? This throws up lots of possibilities and potential. For me, either I can say I run the world’s largest equity-free business accelerator that is open to all, with 13 hubs across the UK.

Or, I can say I’ve just written a new book that launches in three weeks that’s already catching the eye on Amazon. Or I can say I help others Create Special in their lives. All fair enough and give the questioner a flavour of who is in front of them. Each one opens up a potential talking point that the questioner can follow up and weave in their own agenda for being there.

But, I could also take a whole new perspective in this networking world and answer with: what would I need to do to make it look good for you this morning?

I think this strikes at the heart of what attending networking events or getting out there and networking is all about. Rightly or wrongly, I never ask anyone what they do. I wait until they ask me.

This gives me the opportunity to suss out, assess and validate how I can – if at all possible – help them. I’m making the judgement that they want something I have, want to get to know me or are genuinely interested in me, if they take the time to chat to me.

So, in my book, it’s what I can do for them that counts. I think this is a simple but effective strategy for networking. Let’s get to the nub of how we can help each other and, indeed, if there is any requirement to continue with the romance.

I’ve never carried business cards. But, there is no doubt they are an effective tool. So, despite my reticence to share who I am via a piece of card, I am now, in my 50th year, finally going to get some done.

But, what should I put on them? I guess this is another important part of the networking encounters. But wait, I’ve got a great idea popping into my head. So, if I meet you out there, ask me for my card and be prepared to be… well, just wait and see.

Happy networking all.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark