Here are some sights and scenes from one wicked cool tradeshow.
I’ve reached a point in life where my business cards get the same status as my driver’s license and my credit cards: Always with me, all the time. I keep business cards in my briefcase, in my wallet, in my car, and in suitcases in case I forget them for a trip. Like many people, I’ve absorbed the conventional lesson of networking — always on, all the time. Success could happen 24/7, and it helps to give and get as many business cards as possible. I feel driven to track who I met and talked to at industry events. I take confidence from that little stack of business cards wrapped in a rubber band that states: “Look at me and and how busy, busy, busy I made myself meeting all these new people.”
So I was enlightened and outright relieved when I read a recent column by social media maven Gary Vaynerchuk in The Wall Street Journal, who upends the traditional method of networking. I thought it appropriate to cite him here, since he is the keynote speaker at the LCT Leadership Summit in Miami Beach May 16-18. This is an executive-level luxury conference artfully crafted to maximize B2B networking. but with the currency of friendship and fun.
Vaynerchuk — an entrepreneur, cofounder of VaynerMedia, and bestselling author of “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How To Tell Your Story In a Noisy Social World” — makes this liberating point in his column: “I am completely baffled by the number of people who think good networking is predicated on the distribution of business cards; that giving a card to anybody in the room is somehow meaningful or useful. This is a massive misconception.”
That near-universal approach is wrong-headed, he writes. He asks, “Why are we networking in the first place? Why would someone want to network? Because at some point, you want something from this other person.”
His concept is simple, among the oldest in human history. In my words: Give first, receive later. Be kind, and let go.
“In my career there have been 500 to 1,000 times where I have approached someone, done something for him or her and then figuratively walked away,” Vaynerchuk writes. “I expected nothing in return from those situations, and yet they have been, by far, the interactions that have driven my career (and my companies) forward. On the other side, the five to 10 times others have done this for me have been the beginning of great relationships.”
By being the first to give something in a business connection, you not only do the right thing by listening and helping someone, you build up a bank of good will. It may not literally come back to you in a dollar-for-dollar value swap, but in a viral world the benefits can be numerous and priceless. And then there is the practical aspect to this.
“I’ve learned the true secret to networking is gaining the first-mover’s advantage: leverage,” Vaynerchuk writes. “The right kind of leverage in a relationship allows you to extract value over time. How does one acquire that kind of leverage? Be the first person in the relationship to provide value.”
I connected the dots on this concept after attending two Greater California Livery Association meetings in March and April in Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively, where the keynote speaker also is a social media expert and vendor. Marci Rosenblum, president of Integrate It Media Group (www.integrateitmediagroup.com), in many ways echoes Vaynerchuk in her approach.
At both appearances, Marci told association attendees, “I’m not here to sell. I’m here to educate.” She makes it clear that she won’t represent a client unless she knows she can help. And before she decides that, she’ll offer a free consultation. Marci’s mission is to help businesses survive the social media onslaught, which can be overwhelming to those who did not grow up with it. Her company, which serves limo operators in a wide client mix, can tailor a custom strategy across all social media platforms for a business. These include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.
Marci took the time to explain the why and the how of social media sites, and dispelled notions that social media is a hobby or a fad. “This is something you’ll need to do in the next five years, because it’s where [most] business will be generated,” she said. “The bottom line is I formed the company to help businesses integrate and survive.”
Afterward, Marci told me she takes the give first, maybe-get later, approach. For her, social media is a passion. She could talk about it without a script or props for hours if she wanted. Like any vendor, getting clients is the goal, but the give goes before the get.
As Vaynerchuk writes, “By giving first, you have established that the relationship will always be a minimum of 51:49 in your favor. You now have leverage for the counter-ask. . . Effective networking is about reversing the game everybody instinctively plays. It’s about patience and buildup, not the close. We celebrate audacity and courage instead of patience and value.”
Our wider culture relentlessly bombards us with messages of acquiring wealth, assets and material goods. It tells us to establish stature and repute through as many friendships and acquaintances as possible, even if they only consist of trading “likes” on Facebook. Life is a grab bag, the go-getters tell us, and it’s all about gaining security, freedom and happiness. But that gets complicated and stressful after a while.
The simpler plan is the more you be the first to give, and then let go, the more likely it multiplies back to you for keeps. It’s time to stop counting business cards and start creating connections, whether one-way or two-way.
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