Most entrepreneurs instinctively grasp the importance of networking. You can't operate a small business in a vacuum. You need to build relationships with potential and existing customers, industry experts, vendors and, yes, even your competitors.
But networking has its limits. While I'm a huge fan of social media -- my favorites are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn -- I believe that meeting in person or talking on the phone adds a crucial element to the relationships you build through social networks.
And make no mistake, you should think of networking as building relationships. It's not about looking for the near-term opportunity to sell your product or service.
As Elizabeth Potts Weinstein so cleverly pointed out, would you stand on a chair and throw your business cards at new contacts at a networking event, yelling about how great you are? No! So, why would you join a LinkedIn group or start a Twitter feed only to bombard people with requests to download your free e-book or sign up for your seminars? That kind of behavior not only perplexes me, as a moderator of several discussion groups, it drives me crazy. I feel like I'm constantly educating people on the limits of networking.
Recently, an aspiring freelance writer asked my advice and help. I'm always happy to share my expertise -- that's one reason I started CurrentMom. I benefitted from informational interviews and networking coffees when I was starting out (and I continue to do so) and I feel it's good karma to pay it forward.
Plus, you never know where your career or business relationships are going to lead -- I might end up running a major publication someday and want to develop a whole stable of freelance writers. Or, she may be so fabulously successful that she'll be in a position to send me work, someday.
But about halfway through our phone conversation, she asked me to do something that made me uncomfortable. She asked me to recommend her to an editor that I work with often.
Fortunately, it was easy to say no to her request. I simply can't recommend someone that I haven't worked with. I don't know whether she turns in complete work on deadline, whether she's a diva, whether she's a responsible journalist. So there's no way I could vouch for her -- certainly not to one of my most important clients.
But the encounter raised an even bigger question for me about the limits of networking. If I introduce her to the editor, my client, am I asking for trouble? Am I potentially giving a competitor a leg up? Or should I simply have confidence in myself and trust that even if she starts working for that publication, she won't really be competition since I'm more experienced and (presumably) a better writer?
How would you have handled the conversation?