OK, I admit it. I am a serial networker.
In addition to my job as editor in chief of this magazine, I am also the executive director of the PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association, a nonprofit trade group that has been around for more than 70 years. The focus of this organization is to help promote the benefits of photography, but another key part of our bylaws is to promote networking within our industry.
In years past, this was probably the most important (and most enjoyable) aspect of the organization. There would be monthly meetings that involved cocktails, dinner and a guest speaker. The room would slowly fill up, and by the time dinner was served, more likely than not 100+ people would fill the seats. Every month.
But times have changed, and our industry has changed. It seems as though networking and personal connections have taken a backseat. The four walls of many companies have become veritable jail cells for people who, for some reason, rarely leave the confines. As a serial networker, I’ve asked myself why, and I’ve asked other people why.
Here are a few of the answers I’ve heard and my responses.
I’m too busy. Too busy for what? Too busy to attend a seminar where you might learn something or meet people who might expand your horizons? Too busy to learn about other industries that might offer glimpses into what might work in your own industry? Too busy to possibly make a connection with someone that one day might change your life?
I shouldn’t talk to the competition. The competition is also your compadre. Just because you compete, it doesn’t mean you don’t share the same frustrations and challenges within your organizations. PMDA is a perfect example of this; executives from most of the leading camera manufacturers sit around a table once every six weeks and talk about the industry. Not about their individual sales numbers. We share our frustrations, learn from others’ experiences and often come up with solutions.
It’s not productive. How many deals have been made on a golf course, or at a dinner, where pleasure is the key ingredient. Talk is cheap, but many significant deals have been made by just knowing the right people—or knowing the people who know the right people. Your next job, or next huge business deal, could only be a Grey Goose and tonic away.
Among the most productive networking events I’ve attended over the years are the PRO meetings that are run so professionally by Bill McCurry. Dealers from across the country share their frustrations and ideas with each other. And even though many of them now compete with each other (online), they still find a way to encourage each other and let everyone know what works for them.
My reason for bringing all of this up is because more and more I see a lack of networking within our industry. What used to be an industry of camaraderie has turned into an industry of isolation. Yes, we all compete. But we are also all members of an imaging industry that is now going through its own unique challenges. Most of us work hard. We value our friends and family. We go on family trips. But we have more in common with each other than with many of our friends outside the industry. We need to share.
In my position at PMDA, I’m finding it harder and harder to encourage people to attend events that are meant to promote networking. Does every day have to be spent staring at a computer screen? Can fresh air and new conversation be just as productive?
I’ve been lucky in my professional life over the last 10 years, as I’ve been able to meet so many people in this industry, through both Digital Imaging Reporter and PMDA. I’ve made connections that have helped me in other parts of my life. I’ve learned from people, and I hope I’ve been able to help people along the way. Some of my best friends are from this industry, because we share the same goals, successes and frustrations. My most satisfying moments are being able to put two people together that never knew each other, but can help each other.
So, here are my suggestions. Get out of the office. Pick up the phone and call an old friend. Stop looking down at your cell phone all the time. Go to the next golf outing. Attend a seminar about something you don’t know. At the next industry outing, don’t hang out with the people you know; meet the people you don’t know.
Personal connections go a long way—both in your business life as well as in your personal life. Make those connections work.