Naïve Networking: How Wasting an Entrepreneur’s Time Can Spoil a First Impression

Posted on July 8, 2008. Filed under: -- Book Summaries, -- Entrepreneurship And YOU, Networking | Tags: , , , , , , , |


Posted by Molly Greaves, and found on http://www.actonmba.org

Naïve Networking:  How Wasting an Entrepreneur’s Time Can Spoil a First Impression 

 

The Call Entrepreneurs Dread 

“Hi, my name is Tom Matthews. Bob Smith suggested we meet. Is there any time in the 

next six weeks we could get together for lunch?” 

“Can we have lunch, just to get to know each other better?”  

You have no idea how much busy entrepreneurs hate to hear these words.  Despite 

knowing that the meeting almost certainly is a waste of time, common courtesy to the 

caller and “Bob Smith” means the entrepreneur has little choice but to squeeze something 

else into his eighty hour work week, meaning that work, family or charitable duties must 

suffer. 

Finally, it’s the day of the meeting. Thankfully, the entrepreneur’s assistant has managed 

to convert the lunch to a short meeting. 

“Nice to meet you.” 

“Nice to meet you.” 

“So how do you know Bob?” 

“We met a few weeks ago, and your name came up.” 

Another ten minutes are wasted on empty pleasantries, like the weather and the latest 

sports scores.  Finally the moment comes. 

“So what can I do to help?” 

“Well, I’m not sure.  I’m just trying to network with as many people as possible.  I’m 

thinking about changing careers.” (Heavy sigh from the entrepreneur.) 

“So what kind of job would interest you?” 

“Well, I’m not sure.  Something that’s really exciting and pays well. I’m really open to 

anything.” (Another heavy sigh.) 

 2 

Then, if you are really unlucky, the guest begins to recount, in agonizing detail, his life 

story.  This takes another fifteen minutes. Time moves slowly. Very slowly. Finally, the 

meeting is over.  Another half hour wasted.   

What’s wrong with this picture? 

So what went wrong?  Is the entrepreneur unsociable? Selfish?  No, not at all. Even the 

most charitable person wants to know – what’s in it for me?  Even if “what’s in it for me” 

is the joy of helping someone else. 

Basically, as an entrepreneur with a family and obligations to my community and church, 

every minute of every day is already taken.  That means there’s an opportunity cost for 

every new task accepted.  If you waste my time because you haven’t thought about your 

own goals, you are telling me that, at best, you are naïve; at worst, self absorbed.  Not 

exactly the best first impression. 

It is a waste of time to use personal interviews to learn about an industry or decide what 

you should do with your life.  A stranger or casual acquaintance doesn’t know you well 

enough to give you personal career advice and general career advice isn’t very valuable.  

If you want to learn more about an industry, it’s more efficient and effective to read about 

the industry first and then interview front line workers—not bother a CEO with general 

questions. 

Save interviews and interactions with busy entrepreneurs until you know exactly what 

you need.  Someone who can help you naturally becomes your mentor, so make it as easy 

as possible for them to help by having a specific request. 

But, But, But…… 

“But don’t entrepreneurs want to make new friends?”  Sure, but at their own choosing, 

not as a social obligation because it’s rude to refuse to see you.  Sometimes random 

meetings do lead to long lasting friendships, but the odds are against it. 

“But I just need someone to listen to me.” Sorry, that’s not an entrepreneur’s 

responsibility.  That’s the job of a spouse, friend or counselor. 

“But I need to learn more about your industry.”  Fine. Read a book. I’ll even send you a 

list of books by e-mail. Surf the internet. Talk to salespeople and operators.  I can’t tell 

you enough about my industry in thirty minutes to do you much good.  You need to do 

hours and hours of reading to even scratch the surface. 

“But I’d like to meet influential people.” So would I.  That doesn’t mean they want to 

meet me. 

“But I’m really talented and wonderful.”  I’m sure you are. Now do something to prove 

it.  Like doing your homework before you burden busy people with meaningless 

interviews.  

 

 It’s Not about You 

“Can you introduce me to Michael Dell? I’d like to ask him some questions about the 

computer industry.” 

Amazingly enough, just last year an incoming student made this request.  He never 

stopped to ask whether Michael Dell would have any interest in meeting him. Or what 

Michael would have to push aside to make time for such a meeting.  He never stopped to 

consider how much personal capital it would take me to set up such a meeting or what the 

cost would be to me if he wasted Michael’s time. 

The first rule of “networking”—by the way, I hate that word – is that you must put 

yourself in the shoes of the other person.  Why would they want to meet you?  How can 

they help with the least possible expenditure of time or effort?  How can you make such 

an encounter enjoyable for the other person? 

If you cannot recast your idea of networking: “Here’s what I need;” into one of humble 

service:  “I’ve got something to give to the world, and with just a little help from you I 

can make my dream a reality;” you shouldn’t expect to get far.  Bottom line: You cannot 

expect the world to revolve around you and what you need. 

Some Suggestions 

The suggestions below will help you get the most out of personal interviews: 

1. Do your personal soul searching and industry homework first

Take a personal inventory.  Take aptitude tests.  Ask those who know you well what 

you do better than most.  Do whatever it takes to narrow your search to a few 

industries.  Read about these industries and the leading companies and people. 

Personal interviews with teachers, entrepreneurs and executives should not be used to 

narrow your search or learn about jobs or industries.  A stranger or casual acquaintance 

doesn’t know you well enough to map out your career. This is a very inefficient use of 

a busy person’s time. 

2. Be specific about what you need. Make sure the other person understands how a 

little effort on their part can make a big difference in your life. 

READ THE REST of the PDF here!  

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