This past weekend I got back from a ten day vacation in Colorado with my husband. Disclaimer: this post will probably contain about 50% what I learned about networking while there, and 50% me shamelessly bragging about how great the trip was. Just thought I should be honest.
I imagine when many people think about networking they are picturing a bunch of people in business suits handing out business cards and eating hors d'oeuvres at some hotel ballroom. (I definitely had to look up how to spell hors d'oeuvres, but it sounds so much classier than appetizers am I right?) At least that's essentially what I tend to think of when someone uses the word "networking," probably because pretty much the only time anyone uses that word is for those oh-so-classy events.
Don't get me wrong, I hit up networking events quite often. Love 'em. The point of this post isn't to make you stop going to networking events. But recently I've somehow expanded and narrowed my view of networking simultaneously. Let me explain. I've become aware that networking is so much bigger than attending a once-a-month event and exchanging cards with people. At the same time I've been narrowing down what I think it looks like to really network effectively with people.
For those of you who followed our trip on social media, you may have wondered how we were possibly able to afford all the things we did. Let me answer that for you: in short, networking. Seriously. Branches of our network that made our trip possible included close friends, cousins, Matt's company and hospitable Airbnb hosts. I spent some time calculating the money we saved during our trip through the people in our network, and it came out to somewhere between $1,700 and $2,000. Discounts we received through our network included everything from lift tickets to lodging to food to rental cars and even free beer!
Here's my takeaway from that: Taking advantage of your network doesn't mean taking advantage of people.
I think some people are skeptical about the concept of networking because they think it's just a way to unfairly take advantage of someone else to get what you want from them, either their business or otherwise. While some people definitely do this, this is not what effective networking is. Effective networking is taking advantage of your connections WITHOUT taking advantage of your people.
Here's what I mean. Have you ever known somebody who has a cabin or a beach house somewhere and they say to you, "You are welcome to use it any time! We are hardly there! Seriously!", but you never follow through on it because you feel like you would be using them for their stuff? My question is - if you did follow through on it, would you really be using them? You're not using someone if you accept what they are genuinely offering you.
For instance: Matt's cousin works at Copper Mountain. He told us a while back that if we ever came out there that he would give us the hook ups. We talked about it for a while but we didn't want him to feel like we were just using him for his connections. We finally bit the bullet and, long-story-short, were able to shred Copper for three days for next to nothing. And what's more, Matt's cousin was pumped that he was able to make that happen for us. Why? Because really all we did was accept his invitation.
You see, effective networking is really more of a mindset than something you just do at an event every once in a while. It's the ability to make genuine connections with people, whether personal or professional, or somewhere in the middle.
And it starts with you. If you're not willing to be generous with your resources, network and time in connecting with others, why would you ever expect them to do the same for you?
To summarize, here's what I learned about networking on vacation:
Taking advantage of your network doesn't mean taking advantage of people.
If you're not willing to be generous with your resources, network and time in connecting with others, why would you ever expect them to do the same for you?
Just like we all (hopefully) learned in preschool - sharing is caring, and it can be fun! Instead of looking at networking as a way to get what you want from people, start seeing it as an opportunity to make genuine connections with others. You never know when it may benefit you, or them, or both of you!
In conclusion, here's another shameless picture of our awesome trip: #powderhounds