The Truth And Lies Of Networking

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Networking is critical for success. Yes, online social networking has changed this, but meeting in our "protein forms" still can’t be beat. It’s amazing how some people still get this all wrong.

I love networking (both online and offline). It’s not just about meeting new and interesting people, it’s also about personal expansion and self-actualization. It’s for learning about new things and being able to understand people better. In trying to understand the dynamics of networking (especially for someone like me who is more introverted and socially awkward at networking-type events), there is no one who has taught me more about the power of relationships (and their value to business) than the best-selling business book author, Jeffrey Gitomer (The Sales Bible and the Little [Insert Color Here] Book Of… series).

Give value to others before expecting anything in return.

Those who go to networking events and hand out business cards like they’re tossing out ninja stars rarely make any semblance of a dent in the networking world. In fact, they tend to be the ones that are relegated to the same lot as snake oil salesperson. What many people fail to do is provide the value first. Gitomer (who you can also hear me have a conversation with right here: SPOS #201 – Marketing And Sales With Jeffrey Gitomer) pushes his audience to think about giving a lot more before asking for anything in return.

"We should grab a coffee."

Any form of meeting has to either have a balance of value for both individuals or, if you’re the one asking for a meeting because you need some kind of favor (or want to pick someone’s brain), you better be sure that you’re also coming into the meeting with something of value for the person you have invited. Gitomer tells the story of loose connections who offer to take him out to lunch to pick his brain. His response is brilliant: "I’ll tell you what," he says. "You pay me $5000 and I’ll buy you lunch!" So, while the point may be that there’s never a free lunch, the spirit of Gitomer’s thought is super-powerful: if you want to meet with the sole purpose of sponging off of the individual, what is in it for them?

You never know.

That being said, sometimes the meetings with the least amount of structure or reason are the ones that eventually create the most benefit (both personally and professionally), but few busy people have the time and energy to sift through all of the requests to validate this concept. So, if you do have someone that you want to ask out for a coffee to pick their brains or ask for something, here are some pointers on how to make it happen…

  1. Let them know up front what the intent is of the meeting.
  2. Let them know how they will benefit from meeting you as well.
  3. Let them know, specifically, what you would like to discuss.
  4. Let them know how much time you need.
  5. Give them a very big out.

Intent and the out.

It’s flattering that people do want to connect, and you should try to meet as many people as possible (what’s good for the goose…), but I’m shocked by how few people can clearly define what the intent of the meeting is and it’s equally shocking at how few people give an easy way for the person being invited to get out of the invitation without feeling guilty or looking bad.

You can’t force this stuff.

Great networking happens when both parties can benefit. You can’t force that. So in thinking about those who you would like to approach, really focus in on the intent of the ask and give them a guilt-free "out." More often than not, being that open and candid will probably get you exactly what you had hoped for, versus being ambiguous (because you’re afraid they’ll say "no" because you’re asking them for something) and resentful if things don’t go your way ("that person is an idiot because they turned down my glorious offer of me buying them coffee and trying to sell them something!").

Networking must be a two-way street. Which part of the road are you on?


  1. Incredible stuff Mitch, I love that two people should come to meeting offering each other something. I love the five points too.
    I’m just going to call you on one thing though. When Gitomer calls people out over them asking him for lunch, he can because he carries the authority. Not many people have his kind of authority and instead should and need to rely on a karma kind of attitude. It’s the way I’ve been driving my networking for a couple of years and I love it. Give help away, within reason, and it will come back. I give people free SEO help all the time. My retainer at the moment it well into the 5 figures a month per client. I don’t pass that on to them. What ends up happening is all of a sudden you’re getting calls from CEO’s who have 5 figure budgets and who heard from so and so, that you helped out or helped out someone they know, that you really know your stuff. I’ve had some monster clients fall into my lap that way.

  2. I agree, I love networking events. I am by nature an extrovert and really love getting to know those in person with whom I have an online dialogue. In Nashville, there is a monthly Geek Breakfast headed up by Dave Delaney (@davedelaney) and it is probably one of the best networking things for bloggers/social media enthusiasts in the area.
    I am also a big fan of the personal “grab a cup of coffee” approach and think there can be great value in two people sitting down with the sole intention of getting to know one another and talk about shared interests (in most cases that being social media and marketing in my case). There’s a lot to be learned when you open yourself up to others for genuine conversation.

  3. Mitch –
    Your article explains exactly why I am grateful we met in October as a simple way of getting to know one another. Although I already was a longtime fan of yours, you helped me understand much more about the value of Twist Image than I knew before. Montreal is a dynamic city with many fascinating people in digital media, including you and your team there. One of the great benefits of my work is the ability to meet and share with excellent leaders various learning experiences.
    As with all scheduled meetings, expectations and intent should be clear in advance. I hope you article serves as a catalyst for others to do more than just business card exchange, email or DM. Sharing digits is not the same as sharing value.

  4. As always, simple, to the point, and valuable information. Thanks!
    A couple weeks back, I wrote an article about my lack of comfort in dancing the networking dance. I think you hit the nail when you addressed delivery of value. The challenge for was knowing where to start … basically the introduction. Surely talking about the weather is a dreadful start. But one of the important things you highlighted was delivering value first. This is a great starting point and in fact social media has helped me here. You and some of your readers might be interested in checking out “Confessions from Social Steve – How Social Media Made Me Social” at
    Social Steve

  5. I’m at a loss for what I might have to offer – kind of a ‘where do I start?’ dilemma as I’m trying to get started in sales and don’t know that I have a whole of what anyone wants at this point.
    Any pointers about starting out and how to jump into networking?

  6. Karma is awesome – I can’t argue with that, but I think people still mostly ask individuals to meet for a coffee because the person they are asking does have some level or perception of authority over them. And that’s the point here: know your audience.

  7. Have big ears. Go to meet-ups and listen. Follow-up with things that might be interesting to the needs you heard people express. And, above all else, buy, read and consumer Gitomer’s books 🙂

  8. As usual, Mitch, your posting is timely as I have just made a “coffee date” with someone with whom I wish to exchange ideas and advice.
    Your five point list lays out the rules very clearly and totally makes sense.
    As someone with many years experience in arts and hospitality management, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of networking. However, as I proceed in my new career, I feel am at a disadvantage in terms of bringing something of value to the table (apart from personality and a few bad jokes).
    So the people I would most like to meet tend to be those who would find that I have very little to give in return. (That is unless they’re writing a blog about older guys getting into the new media.)
    Thanks again for a very thought provoking post.

  9. I love to help out people, but I have to keep in mind what the return on my time will be…as uncool as that can be. Are we friends? If so, do I just want to help out this person regardless of what they can do for me? If we’re not friends, might they help increase people’s awareness of me, find me a future client, bring me business, etc, etc, etc? I hate having to think that way, but for my clients to value the knowledge stored in my head, I believe that I first must value it, and while giving away a good chunk of that for free can be great for business in many cases, I have to know when to draw the line.

  10. Hi Mitch,
    Love Gitomer’s approach and doing the F2F “thing”.
    However, re: “meetings,” I completely agree with knowing up front what the intent is for every meeting.
    Meetings tend to be a waste of time (another blog post topic?), but when required it’s beneficial for BOTH parties to know the intend going in.
    Ideally, meetings (perhaps even networking meet-ups) should only be set to make a decision on “something” that has been predetermined.
    QUESTION – how do you “train” those around you (i.e. your staff, etc.) to use your approach when requesting time to discuss something with you?
    Thanks in advance,

  11. Mitch,
    You’re spot on. People need to read this. When all you do is take at some point in time, no one will ever give anymore. Because that’s your intention.
    So be a big giver.
    I’m on the two-way street. Big believer on what goes around comes around and the power of “good” intention.

  12. Karen, my recommendation would be to get your hands on a copy of Darcy Rezac’s Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life.
    I particularly likes that (Canadian) Rezac (he works for the Vancouver Board of Trade) seamlessly works in both international and Canadian examples of effective networking and relationship building. Not to mention his great characterization of what constitutes a networking Frog (good) versus a Toad (bad). It’s a fast, very worthwhile read and the book is incredibly reasonably priced. I tell people it’s The. Best. Networking. Book. Ever. 🙂

  13. I’m not sure if people really ever reveal their true intent to you when they ask you for a coffee meeting. It is nice if they do reveal it though. It saves everyone time and hard feelings. However, opportunities can be discovered through these informal brainstorming sessions.
    I agree with Olivier. If you have the intent of helping people, it comes back to you. I also agree with Mitch that intent is important.
    But it is good to have a helping or mentoring mindset. Tables can turn. The person with the perceived authority and power may some day need the help of the one asking him or her to coffee. The point of networking is to dig your well and fill it before you are thirsty. (Some writer coined this but I can’t remember who.)
    Might I add that it’s nice to read something that isn’t social media related for a change.

  14. Thank you for writing about this as I still see so many people mess this up. I think of networking like a bank, you have to have money in the account before taking any out.

  15. Karen,
    Try one of these questions:
    What are you working on? (see if you can be of help)
    Who are you trying to connect with? (you can see if you know someone to pass them on to)
    Many times we think we need to be the answer yet most of the time it is who we know that may be the answer.

  16. Agreed. You get what you give. Not always from the person you gave to, but good things come from being generous in business.
    When people ask to meet with a focus on their needs, I sometimes challenge them to get back to me with intent.
    If you are a net-taker you will get found out today. And you will get ignored.
    Great post Mitch!

  17. Certainly agree with being upfront about your intent. Several times my business partner and I have set up meetings after a networking event under the pretense of “I’d like to get to know more about your company” or “I have some partnership opportunities for you” only to be blindsided by a horrible sales pitch. This makes you feel trapped and irritated. And certainly we’d never be willing to purchase from, nor refer to, any of those people.
    Networking really works on a Pay It Forward model.

  18. Can we grab a coffee soon with a friend, Mitch?
    1. To let you know the interesting things we are doing in employee performance
    2. Learn what I can offer to your clients and audience
    3. Want to gain your insight into building my personal online brand
    4. 30 to 45 minutes
    5. Any reason for an out is ok with me Mitch
    Good work.

  19. Mitch,
    Some great words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing. We need to remind ourselves of the goal of networking – making connections for the future. And we always need to bring something to the table – you’ll be rewarded somewhere down the line.

  20. Great advice.
    I agree on you have to know why you are meeting someone. I don’t want to waste a person’s time and I really don’t like it when you someone hands out business cards to everyone. I think I did it at first but I have learned since being green a year and a half ago.

  21. Hi Mitch,
    There’s a guy here in the UK (Andy Bounds) who wrote “The Jelly Effect” – all about making Communication stick.
    Some interesting insights on networking, presentations and all that. The key learn for me – one that has helped me carve out a new role with my employer is asking the question “why is it good for them [your audience]”.
    Asking ourselves “what value does this interaction have for them.”
    I love that as we approach meetings, connections, phone calls, chats with that perspective of serving one another, then we all benefit.
    As a Christian, it’s interesting that Christ taught his disciples to defer to each other (in love). That’s even less self-serving. It’s just serving.
    You mention Karma in an earlier comment, but what about Grace and the opportunity to do something for others *without* expecting anything in return?
    Sure we all need to house, clothe and feed our families, but maybe there’s room for more than monetising every opportunity.
    Great conversation.

  22. As one of the many who get caught meeting in coffee shops without a clear agenda on either side of the table, I can say with certainty that I will be using every word of this post moving forward. If they “pick your brain” you aren’t being clear on the reasons you are meeting. It’s business and the moment others know you are serious about helping them in whatever way you can, the faster you will find those who want to meet for that purpose and not to simply have another warm beverage.

  23. AH! I just realized what was missing with my community of practice, Infopreneurs Québec ( a group of consultants, coaches and trainers who meet on a quarterly basis to discuss business issues and learn from each others. I co-founded this 3 years ago and always wondered why it was not more beneficial for those involved.
    The intent is of the meeting is NOT clearly defined enough on our web site :
    ACTION : work on the message and on the website.
    Thanks Mitch.
    Let them know how they will benefit from meeting YOU AS WELL
    Aha….they do benefit….but the two founders DON’T
    ACTION : provide a different offer for a true win-win situation
    Thanks Mitch
    Let them know, specifically, what you would like to discuss.
    This, we do very well.
    Thanks Mitch, for allowing me to see this more clearly.
    Let them know how much time you need.
    We pride ourselves in our strict adherence to the published schedule. We are told frequently that it is appreciated.
    Thanks Mitch, for confirming this need.
    Give them a very big out.
    Making them feel guilty for missing the event. I LOOOOOOVE this!
    ACTION : Since buying a whip is clearly out of the equation, this will will force us to rethink carefully about our message.
    Thanks Mitch.
    Ahhhh…. There are many “Thanks Mitch” is this comment. Although this MIGHT looks like flattery it is NOT !
    These “Thanks ” are utterly SINCERE.
    I rank you blog as high as Seth Godin’s.
    Nah. Higher since it is always insightful and filled with more relevant information than Seth’s blog.
    This article was not exception.
    I cannot finish this without adding “one more thing”

  24. Networking IS key to your personal success, from gaining referrals to landing your next job. I recently heard Kim McGuinness from Network Central in Australia give an amazing talk on this very topic. She spoke about the Power of 3 at face to face events. Basically she said to focus on meeting only 3 new people, to really get to know them and what they do, and think about how you can help them. It’s about giving not taking. Make arrangements to meet them again for coffee or perhaps another upcoming event. Like the “six pixels of separation” theory, each of those 3 people know another 3 people that know…you get the idea. It’s amazing how from this concept, that referrals and business can cascade. True word of mouth marketing!

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