Monday, June 11, 2012

Bring Something to the Table

Ah, networking.

Genealogists are really excellent networkers.  They like to share and they like to help other people.  Those are two attributes that will lead to a successful networking encounter.

I've had some great networking meetings. Probably the best one ever was a tweetup (twitter + meetup) with Melissa Mannon of Archives Info.  Not only was it my first tweetup but it was my first networking event in a cemetery as we had agreed to meet in Forefathers Cemetery in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

When Melissa and I met we talked a bit about what each of us did for work and the direction we were heading.  Then we talked about our mutual desire to work together in some capacity and brainstormed a bit about that.  We haven't actually worked together yet but that meeting was the start of a very interesting and supportive working relationship.

I have another friend that I've been talking to and brainstorming with for several years now.  We have been looking for a project that will allow us to work together.  It hasn't happened yet but the discussions over the years have helped us slowly build our working relationship and get to know each other.

Unfortunately, not every networking encounter goes well. Take for example the coffee meeting I had recently.  A week or so ago a person called me up after reading a newspaper article about one of my projects.   This person is not a genealogist or historical researcher. She was offering up her illustration services as an artist.

When she called me I wasn't sure if there would be a need for her services but I told her I would be willing to meet her for coffee and to see her work.  When I arrived she showed me her work which I liked.  But I had a sense that what she was looking for was a paid project.  In order to clarify the situation quickly, I told her there would be no paid opportunity for her to contribute to. In fact, I was already donating my time to the project.  The tone changed quickly.

I like happy endings so I discussed with her how I could refer her work to others in the long run.  I also discussed ways in which she could get visibility to help build her business. I also suggested to her to get a business card and an online presence. I explained that it is more challenging to refer someone's work when a potential client can't easily access contact information or samples. I spent a lot of time showing her ways in which she could expand her business.

Can you sense what happened in this meeting? We spent a lot of time talking about her work and how I could help her.  This was not networking.  Encounters like this won't benefit both parties unless one of the participants is willing to spend the time to coax the other person along.

Here are some tips to help you steer clear of a situation like this and get on track for a successful networking meeting:

1) Take time to build a relationship

When you meet someone for the first time it's not about the transaction or exchange. More often it's about determining whether you want to invest time in the other person or to start building a relationship.  Take the time to find commonalities whether they are personal or business related. Getting acquainted with someone let's them know you are willing to put in the effort for a friendship or business relationship.

2) Bring something to the table

When you meet someone for the first time make sure the relationship is a two-way street.  It's as much about what you can do for them as what they can do for you.  It's doesn't have to be something costly or time consuming. It can be as simple as offering your expertise or advice or facilitating a connection with other people.  At the very least, show interest in what the other person does for work or a hobby. If you just take and don't bring anything of your own to the table, don't expect the relationship to go very far.

3) Pay the rent

I admit this is a pet peeve of mine.  Coffee houses, whether small and independent or large chains, are happy to provide you with a free place to meet.  But they are not doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They have water and electrical bills of their own to pay.  Please respect them and support them by purchasing a cup of coffee or a muffin. Each person at the meeting should be buying something (or someone should treat everybody).  It's one of those unspoken common sense things that shouldn't have to be talked about but speaks volumes about your character if you don't do it.

Photo Credit: photo by Seattle Municipal Archives (on flickr) and used under the creative commons license.


  1. A very well timed post, Marian. I currently have someone in my community who has been trying to meet with me (he's no-showed. Twice.) regarding a heritage website he wants to start. He wants to do that simply because he purchased the rights to the domain name, not because he is genuinely interested in the community history. I have a feeling if that meeting ever does take place, it will be much like your coffee date. (I do not to go, even though instinct tells me not to at this point. 1. small community, and he is well known, so to block him out would be borderline dangerous for me, and 2. his business is in a historic building I really want to see, but its invite only.)
    So, thanks for this. It just reaffirms that I'm not crazy thinking that he needs to offer something as well: I have a feeling he is going to want me to write for him out of the goodness of my heart, which I just can't do.
    Anyway, thanks.

  2. Thanks for this posts that concretely defines my ideas of networking.

  3. I like this post. You have a humane approach, that both people should benefit rather than one person exploiting the other. Very wise--good business, good manners, and good character. Not everyone has common sense, and it's always smart to be cautious. And also to think twice about our own behaviors!

  4. I'm looking forward to a collaboration Marian! Time has gotten away from me. I actually may have something in mind for you for 2013...I'll send you an email soon ;) Thanks for including me in your post! Wonderfully written, as always.