Andy Lopata: Net benefits

most often overlooked, benefits of networking is the development of a trusted network of suppliers for your business,
the same benefit also poses a big risk. As your network grows and relationships deepen, it can become all too easy to take people for granted and have unreasonable expectations from them.

People in the events industry are increasingly being encouraged, and given more opportunities, to network with each other. At many events, rather than finding new prospects, the prime benefit of attending is meeting peers in the industry, those who can help you put on your next event or deliver your next contract.

Yet it appears that networking has generated a sub-culture of expecting people to do something for nothing. From the graphic designer friend of mine who was approached on Twitter by one of their followers to “take five minutes to look at my logo” to organisations that ask professional speakers to plan, prepare and deliver talks for no cost, “because it will be good marketing”; people are increasingly dismissing the background work and expertise that go into providing a quality service.

Perhaps the root of this is the relationships that need to be developed as you build your network. I am continually urging my clients to build both trust and understanding among their network if they want to benefit from referrals, so it’s a natural extension that you should give away your expertise to showcase your work… isn’t it?

The danger is that people’s work and expertise becomes devalued. One of the major effects of the growth of social media is the amount of information that is given away for free, information that people would have paid for previously. Has this led to a situation where people are less likely to pay for the support they need because they feel entitled to receive it for nothing?

Fair exchange

As people build relationships with people in their networks, lines between friends and business contacts start to get very blurry, particularly in the events industry with the very social atmosphere of some of our networking events. I have built strong friendships with people I have met through my networking, in some cases to the point where the personal relationship is more important than the professional connection. With many service providers networking together, expectations of free support from each other are bound to grow.

And there’s definitely a place for this. What is important is the definition of the term “free”. An exchange of value that doesn’t include money is commonplace now, with services being provided as a contra between two companies. But for the relationship to remain robust it has to be two-way.

Added value

I think it’s vitally important that we all take a step back when we realise that someone who is close to us in our network might be in a position to help our business. Put that part of the relationship on a professional footing by ensuring that there is a clear exchange of value and that their support can be reciprocated. There is nothing to say that you can’t benefit from such relationships, but in turn you should be looking to see what you can offer them; if not financially then in terms of support, introductions or referrals.

What concerns me is that expectations of one-way support are growing, people’s