According to stereotype, the golf course or country club was (once upon a time), a place for professionals to meet and entertain prospective business contacts. For some professionals, it still is, at least prior to the pandemic. This activity is more closely related to networking than marketing, as the participants are focused more on individual relationships rather than their businesses, and interaction is usually limited to a few other professionals who are likely already known to the others involved.
Nevertheless, it is a good way to strengthen and bridge business relationships into casual away-from-work relationships, or even friendships. For those building their careers, this is especially important, since up to 80 percent of jobs are not advertised. That means these positions are found (or filled) through knowing the right people at the right time, aka networking. Therefore, it can be a valuable route to promotions or new employment opportunities, especially for professionals early in their career. Building these networks is just as important for business development, as well, since even light personal relationships with business owners and decision makers can result in new clients.
Networking vs. Marketing
Casual networking is not actual marketing, which has direct costs with the primary goal of getting the word of your business or service out to a broader audience than the few colleagues you golf with and their friends, and with a more definable return on investment (ROI). These marketing efforts may be targeted to a narrow and very qualified audience, or a wide audience. A key definition of marketing, as opposed to networking or public relations, is that marketing has the direct goal of measurable sales as the result of the marketing campaign, with a definable ROI. Advertising is often a component of a larger marketing campaign. Are you wanting to market your services to prospective clients, or network to gain professional contacts and acquaintances? Networking can accomplish both, but in less definable ways than marketing.
Networking is generally much less focused and has the benefit of being lower cost, or even free in some cases. And it can be fun. Because of its combination of business networking with an unrelated pastime/hobby/sport, the golf outing is a prime example of a nontraditional networking event, bringing together professionals who share an outside interest. There are many other opportunities for in-person networking at non-stuffy events that may as well be an extension of the office. Although networking has exploded across social media, these active, in-person networking events are a great way to reinvigorate one-on-one and small group relationships.
Pure Business Networking
Traditional business networking events are focused almost exclusively on bringing professionals together for the purpose of talking business. When we emerge from the pandemic, these will surely return, as well. Such events are usually organized by and for professionals in a specific industry, or for all types of businesses in a community. Common “pure networking” events include monthly (or other regularly-scheduled) get-togethers hosted by local chambers of commerce or other business organizations, such as trade associations. These events may seem stuffy or boring to younger professionals, because the focus is all about business.
Social Media Networking
In the last decade, people all over the world have embraced and become somewhat addicted to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. At the same time, professionals have used the various sites for different marketing and networking strategies. One of the greatest benefits of social media is that it is always on and always accessible, even during a pandemic, and whether you’re in the office, on a golf course, or lounging at home. Professionals can also more easily connect and network with people in faraway cities. On the downside, according to organizational expert Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, social media networking is considered less personal than face-to-face meetups, lacks an emotional connection, and can facilitate laziness.
Having fun doing something you truly enjoy, with others who also truly enjoy doing it, may be fun but it is still networking. And yes, this can include golfing which, as Mark Twain said, “Is a good walk, spoiled.” Whether it’s golf, kayaking, tennis, bowling, or CrossFit, any activity where there’s a group of people involved will eventually lead to opportunities to talk about what you do and promote yourself, while also learning about the other people. For parents, participating in youth sporting or club events can also offer similar networking opportunities.
The events don’t have to be athletic-related, either. Groups focused on community outreach, charity or other functions can also be good places to discuss your professional life. It’s not inappropriate if you are actively engaged in the group’s activity, and doing it because you are committed to its goal. For any activity-based group, keep in mind that your networking is not the reason that others are there, so keep your focus on the group.
As a crossover between networking and marketing, you may be able to sponsor or cohost an event based on the activity you’re involved in. Whether it’s a tournament, a fund-raising event, a team-building challenge, or sponsoring an adult softball or youth little league team, these events will offer you and your staff the opportunity to meet professionals who share the same interests, while also highlighting your firm or business’ connection to the community.
If you live near the university you attended, there will be many opportunities to network with other alumni. While there may be many other fellow grads nearby, that also may dilute the power and novelty of your potential connection with others. However, professionals who live further from their alma maters may find that meeting other alums generates an instant sense of kinship, or at least a conversational starting point. All networking starts with a conversation, and the easiest way to start an interesting conversation is when two people have something of mutual interest. This is true whether one state away, on the other side of the country, or halfway across the globe.
The key to successful networking is enjoying yourself, since this allows you to be more at ease and more personable even while you’re with a group of strangers. That’s why activity-based networking events help foster deeper relationships than simple business networking events. You may even get in better shape as a result.
So, when the pandemic eases and local rules allow, grab your clubs and hit the golf course (or track or other activity) with some colleagues. Or if golf isn’t your game, get involved in something you do enjoy and make new professional friends. It can also help you stay healthy.