Everyone’s heard it. There are highly trafficked websites dedicated to it. But many people don’t really understand its importance and how to do it well. I’m talking about networking, the single most important thing you can do to grow your career and enhance your professional life. Most people only “network” when it benefits them. When they are looking for a job or need an introduction, they scan LinkedIn looking for someone who can help them. If that’s the only way you’re networking, you’re missing out. To realize the full potential of your network, you have to give as much as you get and you have to be willing to dedicate time to it even if there is no immediate or direct benefit for you. Here’s a recent example from my life that illustrates this point very powerfully.
A few years ago, when I was still at Intuit, an executive recruiter (we’ll call him Tom) from my network introduced me to a Venture Capitalist (we’ll call him Bob) via email. Bob was interested in transitioning from the VC game into an operational role in the software industry and wanted to meet with me to discuss Intuit. This was years before Common Form was conceived of, and I had no plans on becoming an entrepreneur at that point in my life. I was extremely busy and frankly I didn’t feel like making the time to meet with Bob, even for a free lunch. I was hard to nail down and rescheduled on him a couple of times. Then I started to feel guilty and my sense of karma pushed me to make and keep the meeting.
I’m so glad I did, as I had a very enjoyable chat with Bob. Of course, we exchanged contact info and linked up and went on our ways. Fast forward to February 2014. Common Form launches and I share the good news with my network. Bob, who decided to remain in the VC game, reaches out to congratulate me and offers himself as a sounding board for anything we want to discuss. We happily accept this great opportunity, and this time I take him out to lunch. Fast forward to now. Over the past few months, Bob has become one of our greatest advisors and allies. He’s given us priceless feedback on our pitch and marketing tactics, introduced us to over 20 angels and VCs, and he’s likely to invest in the company when we seek funding. This relationship, which grew from a single meeting I almost blew off, is now critical to the success of Common Form and could end up being worth millions of dollars in investment capital.
Remember this story about the importance of networking the next time you think you’re too busy to take a meeting! Even if it doesn’t turn into something as valuable as my relationship with Bob, the help you provide the other person is probably worth way more to them than you realize. And this sort of professional karma is bound to come back to you at some point in your life.