EASY ADVICE #3 Why Networking Is Overrated
In the middle of Winter 2003, my family moved to Joburg from Durban. I arrived in the cold city of gold with a freshly cut pispot my mother bestowed on me with a pair of kitchen scissors the night before. As a fifteen year old boy, with a bad hair cut from Hoërskool Gelofte, I didn’t have much going for me except an old copy of Linden’s Year Book - which I studied carefully in the car on our way to Joburg. Before making my not-so-grand appearance at a new school the next day, I knew most of my peers names by heart,
including which sports they played and which cultural activities they were involved in. Knowing these little trivial details about my peers ensured that their first impression of me wasn’t the haircut-I-didn’t-choose. Genuine interest in your peers is what networking boils down to. It’s about understanding how the hive work and developing a better understanding of the existing network that’s already around you. I believe that the art of building alliances starts at home by doing your homework and you have to try to remember people first. Networking is about respect. Context is everything.
I was astonished, being shy and rather average-looking, to discover one morning about a month later after moving to Joburg to find myself being friends with what people would call ‘the cool kids’. Not only did they like me, but they respected me, and when I brought over the not-so-popular kids hiding on the tennis court each break, they didn’t question the merger. Only years later I realised that a master networker does not only improve his/her own life, but the lives of others by connecting people that never even knew they had the desire to be connected.
Over the past decade I’ve been involved in the music, hospitality and advertising industry. I started my career rather early at the age of twenty, throwing house parties with my brother Willem and my friend Chris to raise money for a recording studio we called Hotbox. Not a single record was ever recorded, and we lost a decent amount of money, but the relationships that were formed are priceless. I had a genuine interest to know how the music industry works from the inside-out and spent my time getting to know my idols on a personal level which still forms the basis of our relationships today.
Here are a few things I’ve learned during the past decade as an entrepreneur:
1. Networking is about symbiotic human relations and figuring out how you can be helpful to those that can help you.
2. It can be tempting in the entertainment industry to become the entertainer. We’ve all done it. The joker is only cute if you look like Heath Ledger. And by joker I mean don’t make humiliating jokes at the expense of yourself in order to draw attention. This includes drinking too much. (I might have been guilty of this one more than once.)
3. Let your work speak for itself. Rambling about your work/band/project for longer than ten
minutes can become boring after a while and people will assume that your
work/band/project must be a bore.
4. Ask engaging questions, and then listen. Rather than focusing on what to say focus on what to ask. Gaining knowledge is the interesting bit and people always enjoy talking about
5. Use the word industry sparingly and avoid it all together if you can. I’ve already used up my quota in this article. It has an exclusive and vague quality to it that can be off-putting.
6. The name-game; you’re not networking if you don’t know who you’re speaking to. Knowing someone’s name is the first form of respect - rather ask someone to repeat themselves than forgetting it all together.
7. Ask yourself how you can assist the person you want to network with? Is there something
valuable you can bring to the table? A generous spirit goes a long way.
8. Don’t sell yourself too hard. Talk with vigour and passion by all means but don’t put a price
tag on it. Energy is priceless.
9. Follow-up. If you said you’ll give them a call the next day, or made any promises of any sorts, honour it. It means a lot. Sending a short e-mail the next day as a gentle reminder can be helpful.
10. Networking is about connections and it doesn’t take long for people to draw the dots,
therefore, ethics is key. Nobody is beneath you and it goes without saying that you need to
be respectful to all humans.
11. Honesty and vulnerability shows that you have a strong sense of self and leaves a longer
impression than boasting about your work or past achievements – you have to be willing to
open-up in order to form real connections, but you don’t need to over-share.
12. Network up. Surround yourself with people that might intimidate you because they have
qualities you admire. Figure out who are the critical few that will have the most significant
impact on your life and career and keep regular contact with them.
13. Love thy neighbour.
After a lot of contemplation I realised that networking might actually be crucial.
About the author:
Henk van der Schyf graduated from the School of Hard Knocks. He is a founding partner of African Beer Emporium, Capital Craft, Easy Agency, Park Acoustics and Tshwanefontein.