Networking can be a powerful activity. Coming together with likeminded people for the purpose of helping each other is quite noble. Sharing common ideas, interests and desires fuels excitement and innovation. One sparks another, and next thing you know you're onto something marvelous.
Yesterday I attended an event showcasing stage 1 and stage 2 growth companies based in Central Florida innovating new technologies. I went because I am very comfortable in the technology space, and I also know that these innovators often struggle to connect with their customers: prime candidates for the work I do.
Yes, I was looking for new relationships.
I met some of the most eager CEOs who intensely believed in their products, yet who struggled to get their organizations out of bootstrap mode and into VC or angel investor mode so they could grow. Everyone wanted you to believe in their product the way they did, and thus fund their growth. Some of these companies had so much material costs into the development of their products that they couldn't grow without capital.
Others were internet- or software-based products with less overhead, but saddled with a much more difficult time standing out in their overpopulated category. Social media. Productivity. Cloud computing. All very busy categories with lots of competition and noise.
Each company CEO or principal I spoke to acknowledged that they needed help in my area of expertise: customer relationships. There were nodding heads and sighs of understanding, and relief as the possibility of healing that area of their business was in sight.
But there was one problem that nearly every participant in the event shared: the need for capital to run their company or grow.
One of the conversations I had with an attendee surrounded the networking groups in Orlando, what was working and what wasn't. We both agreed that most every networking group that we'd mutually participated in didn't yield any positive results. New business. Connections that led to new business. Inspired thinking that led to innovation. There was little to no evidence. At the bare minimum, some individuals collaborated but only if it was of mutual benefit, which ironically made it more like a multi-level marketing arrangement. And there's no heart in that.
It's great to meet new people, see what's being done out in the world, but I'd like to be a giver at networking events from now on and hopefully inspire a new flock of givers. At most networking events, the listening is only "how can you help me," or "how can I get you to hire me." And coming from both sides, there is no potential for anything happening as long as people are focused on themselves. Kind of like a WIFM stalemate.
To a large degree, we should be vigilant for our prosperity as our business, employees and community depend on it. There is a growing trend, however, of leaders who realize the positive outcome of giving first. When generosity, sharing, innovating and supporting are the themes of relationship building, the relationship has a much greater chance of being highly productive and beneficial.
For everyone involved.