Outside Consultant: Is Networking Worth the Effort?

This “Outside Consultant” column by Opus College of Business Participating Adjunct Instructor Michael Hoffman ran in the Star Tribune on May 24, 2021.

Yes, definitely. The better considerations are, “What do I want to gain from it?” and “How do I go about it?” Networking has almost become a cliché in business as the way to get more business and develop more leads. For example, every semester, I invite Bob Hanson – a friend and colleague – and Joe Puk, a former student who sat in the same marketing/sales class only a few years earlier, to guest present to the class of graduating seniors. Bob highlights networking … his intentions for it, his successes with it and how he has professionally employed it over the years: his career as a “rookie” selling tickets with the Minnesota North Stars, then to the Timberwolves, then pharmaceuticals and on to his position as regional VP of sales at a premier medical device company.

After presenting to my class, Joe posted highlights of the networking portion of his talk on LinkedIn. The next day his post had almost 300 likes and comments, including some additional advice on networking by Joe’s connections. Joe has networked and nurtured those contacts. One comment was, “Just because you don’t have a lot of professional experience … doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of life experience. Share YOUR story. Passion speaks louder than paper.” Both guests highlighted the need to stay in touch with those contacts. “Don’t be a one-and-done. Follow up … it’s the little things that will get you noticed.”

Authenticity and staying in touch to continue developing the relationship is the key. Be transparent in your reaching out. As Oscar Wilde puts it, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Networking done authentically is the launch to building a relationship, which is the essence of networking … to build trust. Every connection has the opportunity to be a long-lasting, influential relationship. It is key to follow up. It is not about what or who you know, rather who knows you. Who is willing to vouch for your character, work ethic and performance?

Social media certainly has its place in all this, especially with the “stay-in-touch” discipline. Some hints: If you find something valuable, share it; keep tabs on your connections and their successes; celebrate their accomplishments; post with a purpose; be active.

Michael Hoffman is a participating adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.