So I’m a non official member of a networking group in London.  I say non official because I don’t pay the £360 a year to be a member but the guy who set it up is one of my best chums and he invites me anyway.  I’ve told him that I’m not entirely comfortable with making small talk with people I don’t know.  I find it sapping. I certainly can’t do it each month which is why I’m an occasional member. We went to one the other night in London and there were 20 blokes there.  I could only remember a few of the names due to my bad memory problem.  And there was one guy who spent a good half an hour telling me about his thing and never asked once about mine. I kept waiting for him to say “so… what’s your thing?” but it never came. At the end of the evening I felt spent.  The pressure of the small talk, the concepts I had to get my head round, the red wine.  I needed a day off afterwards to recover so not only did the event consume my whole night it also consumed the day after.

I like to network in a rather more organic fashion. I’m not even sure it really is classified as networking. I tend to add a few new friends a year and then invest some time in getting to know them.  I’m like the opposite of the power networker.  I like to meet peoples wives, their kids, get access to their analytics if they’ll let me.  You know, really get under the skin of someone. I don’t think you can really truly network unless you connect with people on a real level and become friends. The networking dinners and breakfasts that I see promoted all seem so superficial.

Anne who sells me my coffee on a Friday is someone I met on twitter.  I bought coffee from her every Friday from her market stall.  She roasts it in her kitchen then bags it up and sells it in the market just down the road from our office.  I saw her first tweet one day when the temperature outside in the market hadn’t raised above zero.  I thought this was commitment so I went and bought a bag. I have a policy of always buying something off someone if they are in business for themselves and they come into my life somehow.  There was a huge choice and I didn’t know what coffee to have so she give me some samples and each week I went and tried another until I had found my perfect bean.  Along the way we’ve got to know each other and each visit to her stall got longer.  At some point in the past months we greeted each other like friends with a kiss on the cheek.  Sometimes I swing by at lunch time and spend half an hour chatting to her.  She’s just done a roasting course in San Francisco and recently her business has taken off to the extent that her husband has joined her and they’ve moved out of the kitchen and into a business unit.  Whilst chatting at the market stall I’ve met Caroline who runs a local marketing firm. We now talk on twitter too and keep meaning to meet up and talk about digital things. We will one of these days.  This easy natural flowing networking is what I treasure.  It makes that forced bonhomie of a formal networking event feel fake and vapid.

Of course networking isn’t new.  Go back 300 years and it’s likely back then you knew every single person around you.  Your orbit was your village and you would be born there and die there some 40-50 years later. We’re programmed to want to talk to people but the natural ebb and flow of life is to not jam 30 new people into your life in one evening and then try and “get something off them”.

I think I’ve added about 10 people to my network this year.