When I was living in Silicon Valley, I did a lot of networking. I wanted to meet as many important people as possible. Every time I met someone I thought would be “good to know,” I’d try to schedule a one-on-one conversation.
These important people were very generous with their time. I was often introduced to them through a mutual friend or colleague, and they met with me because they wanted to do that friend a favor. Other times it was just pure altruism. While I had a solid network and engaged in many good conversations, I had no specific business goal or desired outcome for these networking meetings. I was simply networking for networking’s sake.
Because of this, I sometimes came away from these conversations feeling guilty, like all I’d done was take up an hour of their time. Now that I know what it’s like to be incredibly busy working towards an entrepreneurial goal, I feel a little regret for having taken that time without having a way to return the favor.
When I moved to Montana to start what would become Software Advice, I left a lot of the network I’d built behind due to geography. And I found that once I was neck-deep in execution, I no longer had time to network. Instead, I focused on the tactical aspects of starting a business: getting the website live and doing marketing and sales. I didn’t communicate with my network for quite some time.
I also found that when I sought advice for specific problems, most people, while thoughtful and willing to help, weren’t close enough to my day-to-day business to help. Out of an hour-long conversation, I’d spend half an hour educating them on the particular challenge I was facing; 15 minutes answering their questions; and only the last 15 minutes getting their feedback. While their advice was thoughtful, it ultimately wasn’t always helpful. My problems were too specific for most people to help solve.
Now that we’ve grown to a certain scale, we’re facing challenges that are less specific to our company, and common to many growing businesses. These “generic” growth issues, such as hiring, management and leadership, are areas where I think a good network can help. In fact, I just joined a networking group that I expect will provide good counsel on these challenges. I also have more time to network now that I have a bigger team and more support.
I’m not totally against networking: I think that in some situations, it can be very valuable. Certainly, over the years, certain relationships from my past have been helpful. However, as an entrepreneur—particularly a bootstrapper—you need to carefully measure the value of the time you spend networking. Your time is worth a lot, especially in the early days, and you want to make sure that none of it is being wasted.
So while conventional wisdom says to network aggressively, I don’t necessarily agree. There will most likely be periods during which networking is not your highest-value activity. Every hour has an opportunity cost, and early in the life of your business, you don’t have a lot of hours to burn.
Instead of networking for networking’s sake, focus your efforts on activities that will bring you revenue. If networking can drive a sale, great. Otherwise, you might be better off going heads down and executing internally.