Networking guru Rob Brown discusses how the lead generation process when networking bears a close resemblance to that of online dating.
Some people have said that business networking and career connecting is just like dating. With the advent of work intranets and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the world of business networking is as much about online interacting as the more traditional, face to face offline gatherings.
When you network online, you’re simply finding, connecting and engaging with people to fulfil your commercial or career objectives. If you swap the words ‘commercial’ or ‘career’ for ‘romantic’ then you’ve stepped into the world of online dating, a multi-billion pound industry in the UK alone.
For many a lonely, busy business professional, online dating is a convenient ‘lead generation’ mechanism which hopefully puts you in front of any number of eligible, available and interested romantic prospects. Indeed, it’s said that one in four relationships is initiated online.
Millions upon millions of profiles, bios, descriptions, images and personas inhabit the online world. Motives range from purely business to purely sexual, and everything in between. However, not everything is as it seems, with a range of unscrupulous scammers, bogus sites and fake profiles purporting to be your next date or love interest. A recent Panorama programme on BBC television (Tainted Love: Secrets of the Dating Game) uncovered several of these websites preying on the millions of people looking for love.
In truth, online dating is an easy way for anybody to connect. It’s anonymous and secretive, you can be anybody online. Your avatar, your profile and your description can make you sound and look like a million dollars. The problem is that you’ve got to ‘come out’ at some point. You’ll need to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye. That’s when the real relationship building begins. But as my mother once told me, 'You can have the best sex in the world with someone, but sooner or later you’re going to have to get out of bed and wash the sheets!'
What she meant was that sooner or later, people are going to find out what you’re really like. You’re going to have to talk and be real. You’ve got to do the ordinary stuff that you can’t hide behind. Authenticity counts.
The parallels between online dating and online business networking are obvious. Dating is having conversations and turning strangers into partners. It’s only the motives (love vs business or career) that change. In both you’ve got to be ‘sticky’ and engaging, differentiated from the crowd, credible and responsive. You’ve got to sell yourself and attract others. It will not serve your career or business purposes to be incredible but anonymous!
While I can’t promise you any success in the murky and unpredictable world of online dating, there are some lessons the online dater can learn from today’s savvy online business networker. Here are my top seven tips for to guarantee you greater networking (and dating) success. They will hopefully help you avoid some of the scars, financial losses and often wasted time and effort in your search for contacts.
1. Make it visual
It’s a cliché but a picture does paint a thousand words. Good networkers know that a business card is much more likely to be kept and reviewed if it has a photograph on it. Business is personal, and people hire, promote and buy people that they like and trust.
2. Keep it real
Stick to the facts and the up to date photos. It’s no good putting up a photo of you from five years ago – they’re just not going to recognise you when they see you. Similarly, if you say you’ve got a great sense of humour and you haven’t, you’ll be found out. If you act like they’re going to meet you for real at some point, it should keep you honest!
3. Play to your strengths
We all have weaknesses and flaws. Change can be difficult, so what if you just embraced them and gave them a positive spin? For instance, instead of disorganised, are you creative? Stubborn or dedicated? Arrogant or self confident? All weaknesses have a corresponding strength, so sell that.
4. Go face-to-face
Good networkers blend their offline and online efforts. Nothing beats shaking someone’s hand, seeing the whites of their eyes and engaging face to face. Even a Skype video call establishes rapport and develops trust. If I was looking for love, I’d go for the speed dating/mingling approach with genuine ‘meet-ups’ and real people.
5. Trust your instincts
If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are. Ask good questions, do your ‘due diligence’ and check things out. Anyone can be anyone, so if you’re getting a sneaky feeling that all is not as it appears, ask your other contacts for their insight. At least do a little digging.
6. Spread your net
People meet people through people. Many people meet their partners through friends and colleagues. Build your network of contacts as widely and diversely as you can. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll be introduced to their network. Each person is a door to another world.
7. Play a long game
Good networking is about long-term relationships, not one night stands. Unless your agenda is purely sexual, your dating should be the same! Ignore your biological clock and take the time to get to know people. It’s harder to fake it over time. So if you think longer term, you’ll hopefully connect with the real people and develop real, lasting relationships and friendships.
Matchmaking is not an exact science. There are broken relationships in business as well as life. But if you take heed of these business networking lessons, you’ll significantly increase your chances of making the right contacts, or meeting you ideal partner!
Further reading on business networking
See also: Ten ways to finance your business