Networking is a dirty word

A friend of mine hates the word “networking”. And with good cause. Networking has gotten a bad rap over the years as it has changed from making genuine connections with people to collecting business cards. How many times have you been to an event where you’ve meant to follow up with the contacts you met but instead left the business cards in a big pile on your desk? Or worse, you added them on Linkedin and never spoke to them again. (I admit, I’ve definitely done this before)

There are tons of books and speakers out there that will tell you different tips and tactics on how to network effectively. Most of these ideas are based on increasing the size of your network as opposed to the robustness.

I think the idea of networking is really quite simple and can be summed up in these steps:

1) Put yourself out there (Events, random meetings, social media)

2) Find ways to create value for your new contacts

3) Be consistent in staying in touch

4) Clean house regularly ( Review your network of contacts regularly and drop the ones that you haven’t engaged with at all or find a way to add value for them)

I’m going to start by going through the stacks of business card binders on my desk that I haven’t touched in 3 years. :)


  1. Such a simple and sensible take on networking. And making “putting yourself out there” as rule #1 is important. Too many people let fear hold them back. Great post. Thanks.

  2. So great I just read this. Just two weeks ago I was at an event “collecting” cards and I haven’t had the time to follow up yet, but you reminded me just in time.

  3. I’ve always found the idea of networking myself a little scary! It seems like a lot of trouble for nothing but then again you only need that one connection to potentially change your life forever! Interesting post!

    1. Thanks for reading this post! Networking can definitely seem a bit scary but I’ve found that the best way to overcome that is to have a friend/wingman to bring along with you. That way, when you have a lull in between meeting people, you can find your friend and take the pressure off.

  4. Nice post….
    How about changing your approach?
    Next time that you are out there, just focus on two to three people and get to know and understand them better. Find a way in which you can help them, rather than seeking the other way around. Relationships are fundamental to business and networking is simply another opportunity to build a better business relationship, not a card collecting exercise. And something else…..ooh yes..enjoy!

    1. Good idea. I think of it as socialising instead of networking, many people i have met over the years have become good friends and clients, not just thousands of business cards and acquaintances.

      1. Great point Miranda. I think that when we take the pitch out of the equation then people are way more open to more organic discussion. I’ve found that alot of the really valuable people in my network have come through chance meetings at events or circles outside of my regular work life.

      2. I guess this should really be the point of meeting new people. Not just seeing them as potential new clients – does seem a bit cold-hearted otherwise. I like that….

      1. I think that is good advice, BusinessOwl. The hardest part, however, is trying to change our own psychology. When I attend a conference for my employer, I feel I have to meet as many people as possible to make it worthwhile for my company. And when I attend a conference privately, I feel I need to meet as many interesting people as possible to make it worth it for the money I have spent on the travel and conference costs. But at the end of the day, there are not that many people I stay in touch with. So I do need a rethink on my policy.

        Matt, good post. You have inspired me to go through all the cards in my drawer and reconnect with at least those I felt a click with.

        1. Glad I’ve inspired you! I know the challenge of trying to meet as many people as possible. Thanks for reading the post.

    1. Hi Paul, First off, thanks for reading my article. I personally would recommend having a smaller network with deeper connections. This has worked well for me because I feel that with a smaller network, you can engage more actively with these people and seek to find ways in which you can either do business, work together on a project or simply exchange great ideas.

      1. Hello Matt, recently found your blog. I’m a bit of a different networker than you. For me I’m always trying to expand my network. With enough time, conversation and connection, I get to learn every new person that joins my network. i believe that all successfull poeple have large networks. You have to know people from different industries, different races, and different interests than you. If you don’t know people, you have no repuation. Think of it this way, if nobody watched Brad Pitt’s movies he wouldn’t be famous. You need people to know about the work that you’re doing, so that they become a ‘fan’ of you.

  5. Perhaps a post about how to develop the “robustness” of your network is due. The big challenge: how to find value for someone else?

    I think the most important step: building a relationship – not just adding them to Linkedin and not just “pinging” them (read “Never Eat Alone”) but actually trying to build a meaningful connection, however that is.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jacob! I agree that further definition and thought should be spent on specifically how to build a robust network. I know that for me, specific activities such as spending a bit of time learning about people’s projects and finding ways to add value has helped me develop an interest in other people’s success. I also find that being strategic about who you add to your network can create more value for other people who might like to connect with somebody you know. This also ties into the concept of becoming a centre of influence in your network.

  6. We teach a philosophy called Positive Networking (book: Work the Pond!) which is “discovering what you can do for someone else.” So, it’s not about you, it’s not about closing a sale, but opening up a relationship. Guy Kawasaki (best selling author, top blogger) says our definition of networking is the “world best definition…once you understand that, the rest is just mechanics.” People love this definition because it takes all the pressure off. Now you aren’t walking into a networking event and “selling yourself.” We agree with Matt, forget the transactional networking and embrace Positive Networking!

    1. Thanks for your comment Gayle! I’ve actually read Work the Pond as well as Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki. I found that both of these books really helped me gain a better philosophy about connecting and networking in a positive way.

  7. I actually have a very small network – but every one on it can be relied upon anytime, anyday and I have the best time spending time with them; a bit like my favourite bookshelf – only some 50 books but each one priceless! Does that re-define a good network?

    Good work on the blog…

    Warm regards.

  8. As somebody who is trying to get a job in the incredibly competitive financial sector, the importance of networking has been stressed to me over and over again. No matter what people say, so much of where you go is about ‘who you know’. However, your never really told how to network and simple tips like the ones you mention should be emphasised more.

    Enjoyable reading.

  9. Matt,

    I think in many ways that networking is the ‘new’ business card exchange. Because honestly, how many of us ever look at a business card again after someone gives it to us? I usually look it over, put it in my wallet then find it months later and throw it out.

    By connecting through LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. we are able to reach out to our new contact at any time so we can interact with them repeatedly, which is huge because it lets us cultivate that relationship and develop trust.

    From a business perspective, with the continually changing landscape of SEO, networking is a good alternative to finding new opportunities without having to struggle to keep up with Google’s constantly changing policies!

    1. Thanks for reading the post. You bring up a fair point. When I refer to people as a resource, I simply mean that in the pursuit of always trying to find ways to add value to people, a contact may have a product or a service that might be of interest to someone in my network. Or vice versa. I agree that friends and business don’t always mix well, but I’ve found that some of my best friends are people who I’ve done business with. And by keeping a mentality of “What’s in it for them” I find our business and personal relationships have remained separate.

  10. I must admit I do all of the above — except the “clean house regularly” tip, which may just be most important! As a full-time freelance writer, I find myself connecting constantly (if only looking for potential sources for stories I’m writing). But I can imagine there are many “connections” who shouldn’t remain…for one reason or another…

    Great advice! :)

    1. Thanks for the reading the post Mikalee! Glad to hear that you’re actively networking. I find that if I don’t clean up my network regularly, I end up having lot’s of people who I never talk to just floating around.

  11. I work in the independent film industry and a major part of finding work is networking on other sets and hoping to get new jobs from your fellow crew members. But I always feel odd about saying “I’m networking” to find these jobs. Honestly, who DOESN’T network to find jobs? Great tips. I have plenty of cards I don’t follow through on. I’m happy that the last line in your post relates. Great post!

  12. I like these ideas! I feel like LinkedIn often gets placed into the same category as Facebook, and therefore is utilized in the same way. (I’m guilty of this sometimes). We certainly need to continue genuine networking tactics even though everything is now web-based. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Let us know when you do the big biz card cull. I’m a distracted, slacker networker. I tend to speak with 2-3 people at biz events and maybe drop off my card 1-2 people. One tactic I noticed a guy did who sat next to me last week at a project management networking event, was he offered to pour coffee and get juice for anyone at our table.

    It’s a great icebreaker and very gracious, humble gesture.

  14. My blogger persona is very separate from the person I am from 9-5 or with my friends. I NEVER say that I’m networking and I also struggle with what to call my internet friends and collaborators. It’s a tad awkward. We should start a campaign: I Network and I’m Proud.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks for reading the post Katie! We should definitely start a “Networking and Proud” campaign! :)

      Also, i’m going to think about a term for those Internet friends and collaborators in our networks!

  15. Interesting tips.

    But when I see these tips:

    3) Be consistent in staying in touch

    4) Clean house regularly ( Review your network of contacts regularly and drop the ones that you haven’t engaged with at all or find a way to add value for them)

    I wonder whether you have LinkedIn in mind, or just your ‘network of contacts’ in general. If it’s linkedIn you mean, it makes more sense when you say ‘drop the ones you haven’t engaged with…etc.’.

    To me, networking was a dirty word too, not only ‘dirty word’, but also ‘dirty idea’. I do believe it is a good thing now. I think I had and have yet to UNDERSTAND or SEE why it is not a bad thing/why it is a good thing/ why it is justified/ why wisdom support it.

  16. Thoughtful post! I like the following quote from WordPress, which stresses your notion about robustness. “Finally, remember that it’s not the size of your audience, it’s how much you care about them and they care about you.”
    Developing relationships, which takes TIME, is far more crucial than anything. And it’s multi-applicational across the board, ANY occupation.
    Alexandria Sage

  17. I’m still in college so my networking experience is very limited but they stress the importance od it so much at my school that I just don’t want to get involved. Not to mention that I’m a pretty shy person when it comes to strangers.

  18. In one of my classes, our guest speaker was a man who made it his goal to collect a business card each day and keep in touch with the people he met that way. He succeeded and became a very well known and liked businessman in the environment he worked in. I guess consistency is the key, even though it seems to be quite a demanding one!

  19. Great post! I’ve found that if you approach networking like any other relationship if helps make it more successful. Good relationships require give-and-take from each participant, so this same idea ties into your idea of creating value when networking. If you can create value for someone else, they’ll be more inclined to help you in the future.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for reading the post! It was inspired by somebody in my network who has added a lot of value for me in my career.

  20. Interesting post! Not exactly related to networking, but I often find that if there are certain things I need to get done, writing a checklist and hanging it on my desk as a constant reminder is usually very beneficial. After each task is completed, I put a check next to its position on the list. That always seems fulfilling in a sense, having a physical mark of completion.

    1. Great tip! I use a paper checklist as well. It’s funny, I have electronic calendars and apps for personal organization but I find that a simple tool like pen and paper help me stay focused for the rest of the day. thanks for reading the post!

    1. Definitely! I’m a big fan of social media because these days, it’s so easy to get in touch with the people you want to connect with regardless of how out of reach they may be geographically.

  21. So true. Plus, when everyone today seems too “available,” we lose the real sense of networking and the real value of friendships/acquaintance/ partnerships. This too much “availability” needs to be tempered with wisdom.

    1. Great points! When I first started networking it was a numbers game to me. But now i definitely look for quality and the exchange of value in contacts. Thanks for reading the post!

  22. I couldn’t have read this at a better time. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to do lately. Actually make an attempt to keep in touch and add some value to those connections. The effort is totally worth it!

    1. Thanks for reading the post! If you want some great tips on networking, check out my post on Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Never Eat Alone”. The book has some wicked ideas on how to take your networking to the next level.

  23. Ilove the sincerity in the post. Sometimes, if not most of the time, we have the idea of networking wrong. Like u said, it is definitely not about the numbers. being consistently in touch is really what is important.

  24. Taking a business card, is often a polite and gentle way of not leaving someone with negative feelings about a contact that may have been vacuous. You both benefit in some kind from the interaction.

  25. Very well said. Networking is a valuable tool when focusing on the quality and not just the quantity. A bunch of nothing is always still nothing. Like many things in life when you focus on value to others, and do this in a sustainable consistant way, you build something of value.
    Thank you for this great post.

  26. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! Less than a week ago, I was talking to a fellow Practitioner about how I feel like an idiot savant when it comes to networking. When I try to “network” and establish contacts, my eloquence and grace are non-existent. When I simply talk about what I do and why I love it, the clients come! The guidelines you posted are easy and excellent and I look forward to doing all of them this week. Truly, I cannot thank you enough, and I think WordPress needs to invent a “Love” button, because clicking “Like” would be an understatement!

  27. Very interesting blog it made me relise I need to cleanup my network friends and keep the ones I hear from and talk to. I have so many from courses I do and I dont hear from then any more.

  28. “Networking” is a dirty word–as it should be. To associate with people for the primary purpose of making business connections or advertising oneself is shallow, at best. Remember the bumper sticker that read: THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS. Absurd, of course. But the one who dies with the most associates doesn’t win either. The one who lives with the truest, most sincere friends is the only winner.

  29. I really like this post! I’ve just ended my first year in communication studies and I’m just starting to realize how important networking is. I find it a little scary to ‘put myself out there’. But I’m hoping that will change in time ;-)

  30. Glad to see I am not the only person who thinks this way! I have spent the last year networking and giving introductions and referrals. I am now starting to reap some rewards. My credibility is bullet proof. People know I do what I say and I will admit when I do not know the answer. But it involved many 530 am and Saturday email follow ups to the week of meeting, greeting and talking. My belief (not trying to knock anyone) is that most people do not know HOW to network. They were never taught or someone gave them a bad definition. In business networking “he who dies with the most contacts wins” is not the case. You have to use the contacts (credibility, center of influence, etc) to grow your business other wise you are just out socializing and not doing anything for your business. I do not use facebook and rarely do anything with Linkedin. Most people I work with have those accounts but it is so others can find them. It is the direct personal touch that makes my business grow, not a poke. Keep the good articles coming! Dave

    1. Exactly true!!! (Waves white flag!). Thank you for laying down the truth card!
      5:30AM is not a time where I can do much of anything except sleep(Not a morning person). Socializing is one thing- networking is another. We can so quick to just stand around with your co-worker’s or friends that we defeat the purpose in attending. I use social media to plug my Copywriting business- so they can read writing samples and get to know me, instead of just looking at a business card.

  31. I enjoy meeting new people and genuinely getting to know them. It’s about building relationships not adding another LIKE or number to the people you ‘supposedly’ know. If I meet or network with someone, I learn about them, share who I am and see if there is a connection to work together now or in the future. I don’t bother with the rest…Good Post. Mr.CBB

  32. Funny enough I removed ALL the like, share, Twitter, Tumblr, what not buttons from my blog. Once again the universe proves me doing it right!

  33. I have done with networking for me last year although it didn’t work for me. But I admit it that things are very nasty when it comes networking business. Somehow, I have overcome and regain my knowledge in networking. Besides I only apply the principles on my own way.

  34. Networking. Relationships. Connections. All three intertwine and without. . .you have at least one missing link.
    MIchelle Bradford
    Children’s Author. Speaker. Writer.
    SCBWI-MI Adcom

  35. See, I agree with the idea of putting yourself out there. I go to as many events as humanly possible for this reason. If I find value in a potentially valuable new connection, I try and make a project with that person. I sometimes also interview them on my website if appropriate- this tends to link us together in a somewhat mutually beneficial way.

  36. Great post! I’m trying to start networking, so hopefully these tips will help me from making some mistakes. But as a fresh graduate, it’s pretty hard to find the contacts in the first place, and I can’t think of any events I could go to which would be useful… Any tips for those completely new to networking?? K

    1. I have found that it doesn’t really matter where you go, as long as you talk to people about what you are passionate about. I’ve met great contacts in really unexpected places. That said, if you focus on events (seminars, workshops, conferences, even community groups) that are aligned with what you’re interested in, you are more likely to meet like-minded individuals that will want to use you / employ you / refer you to their friends. Beth

  37. Good post, I always believe in quality not quantity. Networking can be scary but the thing to remember is employers need to network too. They are on the lookout for employees who can develop their business!

  38. Great points! I was involved in many networking groups and by far have found the social networking aspect to be the most beneficial… It allows you to establish and network first and then selectively decide whom you will follow up and meet with. I always found that I got so distracted in “formal meetings” that it was hard to stay on track and focused on driving business to myself and others… Keep up the great work!

    1. Joining local meet up groups help- especially larger one’s with a in flux of people. Toastmasters- a national group that teaches people who to be better public speakers is a one example. There is a local group that meets in my area. I can attend the meetings and mingle for free- in order to “join” there are dues to pay and that allows you to make your tier of speeches. I haven’t been able to join yet, but benefit from having a large pool of people to get to know me!

      1. I really like toastmasters. I haven’t been a member for a few years now but I think I’ll get back into it. Thanks for the reminder! Also, I find that finding local professional development organizations is a great way to meet new connections in a more casual atmosphere as you already have common ground. Good job!

  39. A very short but effective message. These are tips that we all can use. I find putting yourself out there is very effective as it gives people the opportunity to see who you are plus it also builds your self confidence.

  40. Thanks for this. I think to be a good networker, you genuinely have to enjoy other people – which I do fortunately. My career and projects have moved in interesting directions because of people I have met and struck up a bond with. Keeps life interesting!

    1. I agree. Most people say that extroverts are better at networking which is partially true. Introverts can build the skill as networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

      1. Or maybe some introverts are better at maintaining the relationship over the long haul? Also agree that the skill can be learnt. My father was a big fan of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. Very old but still lots of good tips in it.

  41. Networking parties usually mean everyone throwing back cocktails and blowing off steam after a long week- I enjoy this part, believe me! Business cards are exchanged, and rarely have anyone follow-up. I actually do email the next day- Sad to admit that as a start-up freelance Copywriter- these people who are so eager to network either blow me off, or respond and say they “will keep me in mind.” Oooookay. I don’t expect to land as a guest writer for the New Yorker, but hey-
    This is not networking.

    I’ve learned to approach people how I can help them with my freelancing services.

    I usually attend these events solo- to make sure I don’t just stand around with my BFF’s and talk. I walk around the room and approach people- This can be intimidating, and I get nervous. I let conversations go where it goes, naturally. Shoot. I found my future CPA when I get rich and famous as a writer, social activist and designer!

  42. I can relate – I’ve just cleared out hundreds of business cards from six different boxes and holders, which go back more than ten years! Why did I keep them that long? Just in case I needed them. In case you’re wondering, I rarely did. Did I have any contact with them? Of the entire batch, I think I had regular contact with about a third of them, occasional contact with another third, and the rest were just random pick-ups and exchanges. By the way, my friend finds this manic exchange of business cards to be downright annoying; her take on it is, it shouldn’t be an automatic response whenever you meet someone. Instead, exchange business cards only if both parties are sincerely interested to work together. I like it, but it’s easier said than done.

    1. I definitely agree. Some of the events I go to such as local board of trade or chamber of commerce events have a mandatory time to hand out business cards. I think it’s a waste of paper and time. I’d rather spend the time talking to someone and trying to connect with them instead of straight out asking for their business. Thanks for reading the blog!

  43. Awesome post. Couldn’t agree more, my new motto when it comes to networking is “less is more”. Focus on surrounding myself with people who have more to offer, than with more people who are taking or offering less.

    1. Great idea. I find that surrounding myself with people who inspire me and add value to my life are always great for trying to achieve my goals. Thanks for reading the post.

  44. 2) Find ways to create value for your new contacts

    3) Be consistent in staying in touch

    These 2 is way good. Thanks. My blog

  45. You’re right. It seems like today that many people misuse the word “networking” as just going on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. There are many more ways than just these social sites. I find career fairs and specific conventions, where you actually talk to people one on one, are decent ways to network. And in the end, you get their business card too.

    1. Careers Fair and Conferences are a great place to network with people. I find that networking is kind of like marketing. You have to figure out your brand and your message and then you can pick the medium. The medium can be online (i.e. linkedin, facebook, twitter) or in person (events, trade shows and social events)

  46. Fantastic! I, too, love using my blog to get my design work out there — you’re able to reach so many people. I love how you’ve gone a step further and shown your creative process, you are a true talent.

  47. I am as unbuisinesslike a person as you are ever likely to meet but I was attracted to the title of your article about networking and your suggestions.. As a freelance writer and very bad blogger, I can relate to your suggestions. I know that these days (writing) success does not rely solely on talent. Networking for all you are worth and getting yourself known counts for a lot. Singers, for example do their apprenticeships on the road and at local gigs and online video clips. I am much too lacksadaisical to follow my own advice (or yours) when it comes to making my blog more attractive (I also am not sure how to go about it) or network but one of these days I will. The more I see of these ‘freshly pressed blogs’ the more I am inspired to pull myself out of my lethargy. Good article.

  48. When I was working on my first startup, I had heard several “put yourself out there” advice. I agree. But “networking” sounded really negative to me in the sense that I had imagined everything you said especially collecting business cards (with that being said, I also need to go over my stack!). In the end, I just ignored that negative perception and went out because social media would never replace that face to face interaction. I had fun at first but eventually, the events became repetitive, boring and not as valuable to me.

    I think the best way to find value in networking events is to arrive there with a real purpose in mind and not “just to have a look around” (by all means, of course, that’s not forbidden if you want to waste your time). I just feel like you’d find the right people by keeping that purpose in mind at the event and so you wouldn’t have to have a big pile of business cards to go to – because admit it or not, you might have their info, but would you remember them by then? :)

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