To expand their professional networks, entrepreneurs are seeking smaller and smaller crowds.
In 2008, Sol Orwell, the cofounder of the nutrition company Examine.com, was at a loss. He was attending a big digital marketing conference in Seattle, hoping to expand his network, but the event was so packed that he didn’t know where to start. His friend had no such hesitation. He told Orwell he was going to “meet some friends.” Twenty minutes later, he returned holding a stack of 40 business cards. “At the time, I was blown away,” recalls Orwell, who thought his friend was a networking genius. “But now I think, Did he do anything more than have short conversations?”
Today Orwell has a much different idea of successful networking. He still attends at least one large conference a year, but that’s not how he builds his relationships. Instead, he hosts monthly dinners of six to 12 entrepreneurs, where conversations might jump from business to culinary trends to travel hot spots. And every Friday, he parks himself at a coffee shop in his hometown of Toronto and invites local entrepreneurs to join him for leisurely conversations.
Orwell is not alone in questioning the conventional approaches to networking. Because frankly, those approaches— abetted by technology and hype—don’t work that well. The rise of social media and digital communication means your entrepreneurial hero is just a tweet or an email away, but it also means successful entrepreneurs are bombarded by so many networking requests that they delete most of them on sight. And the boom in massive, circus-like conferences makes it easier than ever to harvest large numbers of business cards, but the sheer numbers of attendees make forming real connections harder.
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