It’s true that you can network pretty much anywhere, but when are you actually crossing the line?
A while back architect friends of mine, who ran their own business and had no kids, once asked to come along to our son’s Saturday soccer match. “Uhm, yeah ok… why?” was my response. Turned out my friends had cottoned onto the fact that kids soccer offered much more than just cheering for the kids. One of these friends stated that an entire property deal, in which they had been engaged as architects, was done at a school fundraiser cocktail night. So, in their minds, they had been unwillingly excluded from one of the ultimate business networking opportunities in mankind (otherwise known as parenting).
All this talk about networking in what I count as “out of bounds” environments got me thinking. When you are crossing the line? Are these lines blurry? Are they self-imposed?
In my observations it’s the Dad’s who seem to partake in this social deal doing. The mum’s I know tend to keep it more focussed on the kids, perhaps they are more cautious as to the importance of maintaining long term social networks when it comes to their families. In many cases the fathers in our social circle have high pressure jobs, work long hours and have a high level of responsibility. Perhaps the opportunity to talk about work in a relaxed setting, on a Saturday morning, is a way to help them wind down after a big week? These kinds of interactions wouldn’t likely be considered networking by the participants but those on the outer see the interactions as exactly that, making the scenario somewhat blurry.
As a person who has had “Business Development” in their job description for some time I feel very uncomfortable with the idea that people would use a social setting, particularly one focussed on family, as an opportunity to harvest job opportunities. This for me is self-imposed, not everyone would feel the same way. Having said that however, the fundamentals of business development are around building relationships, and after all people like to do business with people like themselves.
There is however that awkward factor which I classify as line crossing. This is where people may take advantage of the opportunity to mine you for free advice whether it be about real estate, financial investments or pointers on insurance. In these cases do yourself and the questioner a favour by saying upfront, that you would love to talk to them and why don’t they give you a call through the week? Your kids won’t be impressed if you’re talking shop and missing them scoring a goal.
If you happen to stumble across the CEO of your companies number one target client at nippers on Sunday morning, handing out business cards and giving your elevator pitch is strictly a no-no. In fact, you should probably avoid even cold calling this person directly once they have entered your social circle. At the end of the day your social circle, peer groups and friends should be more valuable relationships than the professional ones. You don’t want to be remembered as the guy in the speedos who just wanted to talk about work on a Sunday.
My general advice for people concerned about crossing the line when it comes to networking is to keep it light, high level and general. Talking about work, business opportunities and the like in a social situation isn’t for everyone. If someone starts a conversation that you think is going to head in a direction your uncomfortable with or just couldn’t be bothered dealing with on the weekend, divert it by saying “why don’t we catch up during the week and discuss that sometime”. Parents in your kids peer group should think of you as Billy’s dad before they think of you are Artie the Architect.
Have you found yourself in an awkward situation when it comes to business networking?