In today’s business culture, networking online and in-person can feel so, so forced. We all know the feeling – you arrive at an event, get a cup of coffee, and then stand around awkwardly in hopes someone comes up to introduce themselves (or you see someone else standing awkwardly that you can go up to and introduce yourself.) Networking favors the extroverted, which can mean that those who are on the quieter side aren’t given the same opportunities, and don’t reach the same level of success.
To help you find a path forward, we’re taking a deep dive into Networking in a 3-part series. Here is part 1!
What even is networking?
When we talk about networking, we’re typically referring to the practice of speaking to or getting introduced to fellow professionals. These might be professionals you could be hired by, or that you could hire, or that you could partner up with. Ideally, when networking, you should be thinking about how your goals as an individual or as a company align with the mission, goals, or projects of the person you’re networking with. When you find someone who you feel could be a productive connection, taking next-steps to build some sort of relationship with them is the ideal product of a networking opportunity.
Why should you do it?
Although networking can sometimes feel forced, it is an integral part of growing your business. Whether you are self-employed or you work for an agency, firm, or studio, these connections can lead to collaborations, employment, or general mutually-beneficial relationships over the course of time. Whether or not you’re immediately hired or a project results directly from this connection, having a broad and robust network can mean that you are often introduced to valuable contacts, suggested as a resource by individuals in your network to other individuals, or just generally invited to events which help you spread the word about your work and (again) grow you network
How has networking typically been done?
Traditionally, networking has been carried out in an institutional setting. There are many flaws with this model (more on that in a bit) but generally it has resulted in great outcomes for those who have been able to participate. Traditional networking has been carried out in two primary settings:
- In professional organizations, members have attended conferences in order to find peers who share their interests and exchange contact information during allotted social time.
- In social societies, members have gathered to celebrate each others’ work, share their passions, and build relationships in a more personal setting such as over meals or beverages. This would often happen in a clubhouse or a private residence that was accessible only to members and/or a select group of individuals.
Do we still do it this way?
Traditional networking has experienced a major shift over the past fifty years. With public acknowledgement that exclusion of individuals is no longer acceptable, interests changing with each generation, and the introduction of digital tools, many groups which used to offer a robust networking environment are now shifting their approach, slowly dying, or are entirely dormant. For example:
For those that are carrying on in the age of technology, look to professional organizations. Many of those which used to exclusively revolve around formal professional gatherings have started diversifying their offerings. While some have embraced local happy hours and more informal meetups like bicycle tours, others have taken the next step to create digital tools for networking. Tools like this include the Urban Land Institute’s member database which allows members to find fellow real estate professionals who are members and APA Learn which enables members of the American Planning Association to pose questions to fellow members and access digital learning resources. While many professional organizations are seeing a decline in those who commit to becoming members, some are seeing an increase in engagement regardless simply due to professionals opting-in to these types of digital resources and experiences, even if they don’t commit to annual dues.
Many social societies have ceased operation entirely, and those which continue to operate have drastically reduced in size. Trade associations such as Masonic Lodges are still around, but many are in decline. Another reference point is Womens' Clubs which once enabled women to gather in a socially-acceptable manner within owned buildings, many of which now sit vacant, have been demolished, or are examples of adaptive reuse. In large part, the decline of these types of groups is directly linked with the Civil Rights movement. Many of these groups operated with bylaws which explicitly forbade the participation of people of color, people of a specific gender, or other individuals who are traditionally marginalized. While white men and white women with power remained in power by networking with their peers, doing each other favors, and sharing industry knowledge, others were continually left out and their dismissal resulted in a lack of opportunity. A growing agreement within society that this type of conduct is not okay has resulted in dwindling engagement with these organizations, and is one of the primary reasons for their decline. However, some groups are working to re-envigorate these organizations. Seen as institutions with a long legacy in the history of our cities, they feel that the original model they embraced for networking is effective, and can once again become a real force for our local economies if they are re-ignited with a more inclusive, relevant approach to bringing professionals together.
What are the strengths and pitfalls of traditional networking?
- Pro: These types of groups can help you build meaningful relationships which translate into personal favors, introductions, sharing industry knowledge, or work opportunities
- Con: This type of traditional networking almost always requires that you be in a specific place to take advantage of its offerings
- Con: This type of networking is pricey! The organizations that facilitate it almost always own property, which comes with expenses and (sometimes) paid staff. When that's the case, dues tend to be higher as members' dues pay for much of those costs.
- Con: Traditional networking is almost always exclusionary in one sense or another. Whether the organizations are white or male-dominated, or the environment simply caters to the extrovert, someone is likely to be left behind.
What can we do about it? Stay tuned for Parts II & III of our networking series. Make sure you see them first! Join Ticco and activate your Dashboard by bookmarking at least one Discussion to see posts like this right in your feed.