Not so long ago, a big part of doing business locally involved getting to know people of influence through organizations such as alumni associations, business organizations, religious groups, the golf club – and of course the Freemasons.
Being accepted into such institutions was almost a prerequisite to conducting business. A few years ago I remember having a conversation with an acquaintance at an industry conference. Within a short time the conversation turned to golf. When I casually mentioned that I wasn’t a golfer, my conversation partner looked at me with shock and surprise. “You don’t golf? But then how on earth do you get leads?”
The Evolution Of Business Networking
The issue with the various old-style networks is they usually want new members to be of the same class and cultural background as the existing constituency, thereby discriminating against race, sex, age, religion and goodness-knows what else. If you’re from what they’d regard as the wrong side of the tracks, you may find your access to such networks hindered, or even blocked.
Online networks, in contrast, have no such membership restrictions. Sure, at the individual level connecting with people can still be determined by bias. You may not be able to get on good terms with the industry titan who has their own plaque behind the bar because of the car you drive. But you’re still welcome to enter the clubhouse.
Conversely, while old-style networks are notoriously difficult to break into, online networks are open to everyone. That should be a good thing. On the other hand the ease of connection lends itself to abuse – as anyone who’s had a flood of invitations from virtual strangers can relate to.
Who You Know Still Matters
The great thing about online business networks is people are increasingly considered upon individual merit, rather than social class. However, just as in the golf club, new potential connections wary of the new and untried will often check out whom else you know before letting you into their circle.
Whether accessed by a web browser, app, or a pitching-wedge, both types of network are invaluable for finding, securing and referring business.
As Groucho Marx is quoted as saying “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” However, business culture is as much about who you know as what you know.
It always has been.