At the start of your business journey, anything goes. You’re prolifically meeting people, following up and building your network. You’re going for coffees, having your brain picked and attending multiple networking events each week. It’s unsustainable but essential. In the beginning, it’s necessary to be everywhere.
Many entrepreneurs, however, reach a point where this doesn’t make sense. Where the opportunity cost of saying yes is higher than the benefit of the event itself. Here, a different strategy is required. Whilst there’s a place for serendipitous encounters and keeping an open mind, a personal policy can set the right foundation.
Dr Emil Hodzovic is a former medical doctor turned high performance coach and investor who learned the hard way how exhausting and inefficient general networking could be. As founder of Health Evolved, Hodzovic helps coaches and business owners live a peak life by balancing health, wealth and happiness, and practices what he preaches by exploring new ways of living and operating. He wins new high-ticket clients by referral and networking and is a member of several groups, but views his time differently now compared to the start of his entrepreneurial journey.
Intentional networking is Hodzovic’s antidote to being too busy and spreading time too thinly, with six key components.
Alcoholics Anonymous describes lower companions as those people who persuade or entice you to go back to your old ways. Often, someone successfully progressing in their AA journey will relapse after hanging out with these people. Lower companions represent a former version of you. As an ambitious entrepreneur, your lower companions might be the family member who always wished you’d get a real job, the friend who reminds you of what a messy teenager you were, or the group that have interests you no longer hold.
“When I started out I ran myself into the ground attending every single event or meetup and saying yes to every request to connect,” said Hodzovic. If we become a combination of the five people we spend the most time with, it makes sense that those slots are filled with A-players, not those that reflect who we used to be and keep us playing small. Identify and avoid. Join groups that are the level above where you are in your business journey to maximise your opportunities for growth.
Notice high and low energy
When leaving someone’s company, notice how you feel. Chances are it’s either full of energy or ready for bed. For Hodzovic, awareness was key. “I noticed I came away from some interactions totally energised, and as an introvert that was a huge realisation. So I started to seek those out specifically and in turn avoiding those that disproportionately drained me.”
High energy conversations are about ideas, fun, and personal growth. Travel, business and productive sharing. Encouraging someone, lending a hand, reassuring them and mirroring their powers. Low energy people bring low energy topics: gossip, complaining, drama, politics, hearsay and current affairs. If you can be completely yourself and feel better after saying bye, you may have found your high energy companions. If you find you have to censor yourself, they’re not your people, and intentional networking says you should leave early and never return.
Just say no
Time is your only finite resource. Whilst in the early stages of business you may have swapped your time for money, now you’re swapping your money for time. Assistants, team members and outsourced services are how you pay to get time back. The opportunity cost of every experience is big and the time has been cleared so you can make more money or seriously relax.
“A mistake at this stage would be to fill the time you have freed with unproductive events,” explained Hodzovic. So just say no. Extract yourself politely from low energy conversations. Turn the invitations down, leave the WhatsApp groups. Don’t jump on the call, don’t book the catch up. Say no to everything except those insanely valuable opportunities or those people who are insanely valuable to you. If they’re not coming your way, go get them instead.
Pay to play
As an entrepreneur building a serious brand, you want to meet people doing the same. But where do they all hang out? Hodzovic thinks there’s limited value to free networking events, one that you might quickly outgrow. Often the solution is pay to play, where the guest list is vetted before you arrive. Baby Bathwater, Frontier Club and 100 Million Academy are examples of networks with high barriers to entry. Barriers are exactly what you want when you’ve graduated to this stage.
If you’re confident you can bring a lot to the table, you get to choose the table. If you’re wondering why you’re not progressing, you could have picked the wrong one. Intentionally meeting people needs a strategy, and paid networks might be the one for you.
Have something to give
“The secret to intentional networking”, Hodzovic explained, “is not that you’re meeting people to take. It’s quite the opposite, you’re meeting them to give.” Your buy-in to new groups is your insights, emotional intelligence, impressive audience or way with people. They are the aces up your sleeve that you dish out with abundance.
With the right people, you can’t give enough. Bring the high energy, never the weirdness. Do favours, practice non-judgment. Talk about the biggest problems and see how they disappear. Be open to opportunities of all kinds because you can trust their source. Like karma and boomerangs, it all comes back to you.
Keep a personal CRM
“Tracking your engagements can sound sterile, but it’s necessary to maintain those relationships over time.” Hodzovic wears by a personal CRM system. You have calendar events for your appointments, so why not for your people? You might meet someone in a mastermind, hit it off amazingly, but then life gets in the way and unless either party is intentional, the energy won’t sustain. You might live in different countries, on different time zones. Out of sight can be out of mind, without regular reminders to check in.
Keep a record because you care. Notion and Airtable can both be configured to act as personal CRMs and there are plenty of other apps out there. Entrepreneurs are intentional about their business growth and their SEO, but rarely about their network. Make a change by making a note.
If you’ve graduated from the school of early-stage entrepreneurship, who you spend your time with might require a rethink. Control your social commitments like you control your finances or sales activity and get intentional for the biggest rewards. Wilst there will come a time for giving back, you can make more difference in the long term if you’re narrowly focused right now. Protect your time, protect your energy and spend both wisely with a new personal policy around what you attend.