by Omar Kasim
In Greek Mythology, Sirens were dangerous creatures who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. The mesmerizing hymns could deter even the mightiest of men, like Odysseus, to leave their quest for deceitful temptation. In many ways, networking events play the same role as a siren to an arising entrepreneur or young professional. For this post, I’ll discuss the purpose of networking events and why they can be extremely harmful for the progression of your goals and aspirations.
The idea behind networking events
The purpose of networking events is very simple: bring a bunch of individuals with similar career goals together and let them connect. The value participants gain here is that they are able to expand their networks, learn from others and build symbiotic relationships. Networking is essential if you plan to build anything substantial for your future – you need the wisdom of mentors to help you navigate through the unknown trenches and contacts that you can call upon for deals, favors and partnerships. One of the main reasons I am able to offer such a range of solutions for my business consulting service is because of the network I have established over the time I have been in the game. I do not claim to be an expert in every department, but I do have the network of experts that I can draw upon and coordinate with to create a recipe for success. That is what we’re trying to accomplish when we go to networking events – building a team that can mutually benefit from each other and are compatible. The primary objective, though, is progression towards milestones and goals, not building a “bigger” network.
And this is where we go wrong
When I was starting my first venture, I made a huge effort to attending every networking opportunity that I could. Having the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals was really enjoyable, and it was fun getting to talk about my ideas – but that was the problem. We were all just talking about our businesses. Now, some may argue that by attending a networking event they gain insight, knowledge, contacts, etc., and that they are very beneficial. Those things don’t get ideas off the ground, though.
Throughout the startup process, you will often find the two things you never ever have enough of are money and time. Networking events are great, but they require time and sometimes money; the more time you spend at networking events, the less time you are spending actually working on your goals. It doesn’t matter how many contacts you have or how many books you’ve read or seminars you have attended to learn about the industry if you are not dedicating time into actually working on your idea. That makes you a student of business (one who studies business); it does not make you an entrepreneur or professional (one who either starts a business or works in a paid capacity in a specific industry).
Coffee Shop Entrepreneurs
It’s easy to feel like you are doing something when you’re giving pitch after pitch, exchanging business cards, walking out of a keynote speech inspired and motivated. It’s important to stay focused, though. The reason why I am writing about this topic is because I constantly see aspiring founders develop this false hubris that they are credible entrepreneurs after a couple networking events. Coffee shop entrepreneurs, a term coined by Mark Zweig, are individuals who spend their days at coffee shops talking about their ideas rather than in the office working on turning their ideas into businesses. These are the sirens of the entrepreneurial world, and you should beware. They will talk to you about their ideas, give you the impression that they are wildly successful, and that they can help you become successful like them one day.
As convenient as it may sound, I ask that you tread carefully. There is nothing wrong with talking about your ideas, I actually encourage it for a number of reasons. Where things go south is when discussions take precedent over work. A network can help you give you direction on where to go, but at the end of the day, you are ultimately the one that will need to do the driving. And the longer you are on the side of the road talking about where you’re headed, the longer it will take for you to make it to your destination.
In summary, networking, as beneficial is it is, can also become a distraction. My solution to prevent it from becoming a distraction is to simply prioritize your work over everything and to not attend another networking event until you have something new to talk about. This could be a milestone that you’ve hit, the news of a strategic hire, or simply anything that demonstrates you are closer to reaching your goal. I also encourage you to look for other avenues to expand your network, because I guarantee the big fishes you are looking to connect with are not attending the same events you are attending.
Again, it’s not enough to build a large network of people that are at the same level you are at – you want to connect with individuals who are further along the journey and who have the ability to elevate you. One way I was able to expand my network in the restaurant world was to ask if I could speak with the owner or manager everywhere I ate. We’d sit down, I’d talk about my concept, ask them for advice, and if they knew anyone that would be a valuable resource. I found out names of restaurant owners and emailed random accounts (firstname.lastname@example.org, Jsmith@johnsrestaurant.com, etc) until I hit the right email and got through. Unorthodox tactics like this is what got me the best results. Finally, I’d ask that you look at networking events as a social event as opposed to a work event. Essentially, that’s what they are: a gathering for like-minded people to socialize and share ideas. Just as easy as it is to spend more time talking about your goals than actually accomplishing them, it’s easy to work yourself to death. Networking events can be awesome ways to get out of work mode and interact with other people – anything that happens beyond that is all upside.
Omar Kasim is an Arkansas restaurateur and 2015 Walton College of Business graduate. Upon graduation, Omar made a wild decision to forego law school and dive right into the restaurant world with the goal of igniting Fayetteville’s culinary scene – with no experience whatsoever. Determined to succeed, Omar’s first concept, Con Quesos, won numerous accolades in less than a year. His latest venture, Juice Palm, is an organic juice bar and has already received recognition among local publications for its commitment to providing health-conscious and flavorful options to the area.
In addition to his own ventures, Omar has assisted in opening numerous restaurants around Northwest Arkansas and has used his story as a platform to motivate and empower students at various universities, high schools and aspiring entrepreneurs across the state. In addition to speaking events, Omar will be teaching an upper-level entrepreneurship class at the Walton College in the Fall of 2018.