The Right (and Wrong) Way to Network

…But first, an unashamed commercial break. Next Wednesday, October 12th, I’m speaking at York University’s Innovation Centre. I’m talking about building your business through a regular blog, and I’m sure that there are still a few places available. Lunch is at 12’00 followed by the talk – anyone interested should contact

Right, that’s used up my thirty seconds allowed for ads – to business. Networking is constantly on everyone’s mind. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Why was that bloke last week so boring…

I’ve been reading a really interesting article in the Harvard Business Review. It’s by two academics, Rob Cross and Robert Thomas and as you might expect, being American it measures the success – or otherwise – of someone’s network rather more scientifically than the anecdotal evidence and gut-feeling that we tend to rely on over here.

So three points to start off with, none of which will come as a surprise to the female readers of this blog:

• Social networks are just as important as business networks for successful executives (and for ‘executives’ read business owners as well)
• Women tend to be better at networking than men – largely because they recognise point number one
• And it’s quality, not quantity, that counts

Let’s look at those points in more detail. Why are social networks just as important as business networks? The main reason is that your social networks challenge you: very often they’re made up of people who don’t necessarily share your views – whereas our tendency with business networks is to seek out people whose views reflect and reinforce our own. So if we’re making mistakes, or not seeing all the angles, it’s our social networks that help us step back and see the bigger picture.

It’s difficult to expand on point number two without giving Dav a stick to beat me with. Oh well, here goes. It does appear that women are far better than men at building diverse groups. We men tend to be simple folk: work – golf – football – pub – rugby (or something similar).

Women are better at both making and keeping deeper relationships – which range across wider interests. Work – friends in different industries – charity work – keep fit – reading group. And that’s before you factor in the school run… These more diverse networks give them a wider perspective in business: if you remember back to a previous blog, it was shown in tests that groups including women consistently produced better business decisions – even in traditionally all-male areas such as engineering.

Finally, it is emphatically quality that counts, not quantity. In fact, the evidence shows that knowing – or trying to know – too many people might be positively harmful. You spread yourself too thinly, and develop too many superficial relationships. Food for thought if you’re determined to reach 500 contacts on LinkedIn – and interestingly, the exact opposite of the advice from a lot of self-help books.

There was another interesting point to emerge from the research. As the old saying goes, ‘Who you know’ is important. But what’s more important is ‘Who they know.’ Despite Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all their allies – a word of mouth recommendation is still worth its weight in gold.

Cross & Thomas went on from this research to develop a scientific approach to successful networking – I’ll share that with you in a couple of weeks. In the meantime I’d be interested in your views on your current experience of networking, particularly the quantity vs. quality argument.

Have a great weekend. Me? Wednesday looms: I’ve an appointment with PowerPoint…



  1. Stacey McVeighty (@cgayork) · October 7, 2011

    I agree with this blog whole-heartedly (not just because I’m female). I think it is obvious when you go to networks, who the ‘friend-collectors’ are. They are keen to snatch your business card before they even ask what you do, or sometimes even your name. I know then that I am just going to be dumped on some mailing list or hassled through linkedin and it is quite annoying. I use networks, social or otherwise, to build relationships and get to understand people and find out about their personalities, what they do, what they don’t do and what kind of clients they are looking for. In my job it is important for me to be able to signpost my clients to competent, efficient and trustworthy associates – however – what is just as important is that I know my client will like the new contact and be able to form a relationship with them too. This can only be done by getting to know people and as the blog says, you can’t do this if you spread yourself too thinly.
    I continue to network, but selectively, as I find that building relationships after the initial contact is just as important, if not more so.
    Thanks for an interesting blog, as always.
    Stacey Mcveighty, Director at CGA

  2. adrian mcclaren · October 7, 2011

    I do quite a bit of networking Ed and view your thoughts with interest especially the one about quality not quantity , thanks for your education Adrian McClaren The Mortgage Man Yorkshire

  3. Michael harrison · October 7, 2011

    I agree that quality better than quantity but it may not be easy to identify quality upfront. If not, then perhaps quantity is the first step towards quality.

  4. Andy Gambles (@andygambles) · October 7, 2011

    Networking has been extremely successful for my business. However I do find it is an investment rather than something with instant returns. As you say word of mouth is the best form of referral. If you continue to network, even with the same group of people wether for business or socially, then they begin to naturally recommend you.

    If I may I also have an article published by the Chamber about networking:

  5. As always Ed, a great blog, and a reminder of this important part of any business’ growth strategy. Good luck next week, can’t get to the presentation but I am sure you’ll do it justice.

  6. Ed – just unearthed your blog, really great stuff. It reminds me what a first class boss you were. I’m off to a speed networking event tonight at the Dorchester. Good to know my current appraoch is aligned with the tips in your piece. Word of mouth – agreed – gold. I also believe in talking *with* ~ not at ~ people. Be nice, be interested, know your product. We are all human beings after all. Oh, and know when to walk away gracefully. Cheers Ed.

    • edreidyork · June 13, 2012

      Hi Eileen – great to hear from you. Networking at the Dorchester, eh? Not too shabby! I couldn’t agree more that talking ought to be “with”, not “at”. Hope it went well!

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