How to play the business dating game

This article is accompanied by a warning.

Networking is a very important activity for people running start-up businesses, but it can kill you!

Worry not; there’s no evidence of widespread use of semi-automatics at events, nor are consultants known for popping poisonous pills into pints.

However, there are some well-meaning people out there who regularly attend network meetings and possess a stealth-like ability to bore others completely to death.

The right mindset

Getting on with people is a very important skill in business. Entrepreneurial minds tend to be much more relaxed about meeting others for the first time and networking events are organised so that people can do just that.

Unfortunately, many people network with the wrong mindset – they focus on themselves and treat all the people they meet as potential customers or people to talk at. And unfortunately, the majority of people in business confuse selling with talking. To find out more on this dynamic, read: ‘Building sound business relationships from scratch’.

As a consequence, networking events are often dominated by people trying to sell to one another which can get rather dull. And once you have been talked at by more than one person on the subject of insurance, banking or image consultancy for example, you’ll notice that you become quite defensive and/or your concentration levels start to flag.

As a consequence, you’ll either get wound up and want to leave or you’ll fall into the same trap and start firing ‘talk salvoes’ back, all about yourself. It’s like two magnets with the same polarity squaring up to one another.

How should it work?

Ideally, networking events would attract buyers and sellers in equal measure but it’s a very rare thing. However, this powerful equilibrium is demonstrated perfectly in the world of hitchhiking because the hiker and driver are equal in number and actively seek something from the other person. Typically the hitchhiker is seeking transport and offers companionship; meanwhile the driver is seeking companionship and offers transport.

One of the underpinning reasons why hitchhiking works is the fact that neither party expects to pay or receive money (I did once offer to pay a driver because I was so relieved to get a lift but he rightly refused – we got on like a house on fire).

With no money changing hands there is no sense of expectation or failure. Everything is based on trust. People behave in a much more relaxed manner and are typically much more open and interested in the other person and their ideas.

Open mindedness

So to play the business dating game effectively, you need to focus not just on what you offer but critically on what you seek and might buy. Such an open-minded approach requires you to question and listen (avoids boring) and means you find suppliers as well as clients. By questioning and listening, you allow the other person to talk and discover all sorts of stuff which you didn’t know beforehand.

Importantly, being open minded also means you are able to discover creative ways to work in partnership with people. Rather than buying and selling from each other you can be innovative and work together to provide a fresh product or service to new markets that you had not previously considered. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it just requires you to look at what you both have, think laterally and be prepared to work together.

And if you can seek and forge effective partnerships, you will be very effective as well as popular on the business dating scene.

Key Learning Points: Networking is an important business activity but don’t fall into the trap of just telling people about what you do. Uncover new opportunities and partnerships by questioning, listening and keeping an open mind at all times.