Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Before There Was Social Networking There Was Lunch

Was there social networking before Facebook and LinkedIn and MySpace and Plaxo? There was and we called it “Lunch.”

Business networking has been around since the beginning of time. The first time a woman exchanged a basket of berries for a necklace or chicken for help building a hut there was networking. Who had what you needed and what did you have to exchange? Who were the experts? How did you get to know them?

So in the 90’s (and before...but let’s not date ourselves TOO much!) there was lunch. Today I’m having a particular kind of lunch that I thought it appropriate to share. I thought everyone still did some lunching but didn’t realize until I was talking to Marcy Alboher ( when she interviewed me for the June issue of More Magazine ( that something I take for granted might be considered unusual for others.

Here’s the thing: for several years I’ve gotten together for lunch once every six weeks or so with three guys who most folks would call “my competitors.” I didn’t know them well when it began, was in fact surprised to be included. We started by talking industry chatter---who knows whom, best places to get stuff, etc---and now it’s a “can’t miss” for me. I’ve made several very significant changes in my business as a result of the information shared including: asking for a larger deposit than I had previously (which changed my cash flow for the better), adding new vendors I didn’t know and most recently a new, green business that we’ve started together called GQA ( . This group rocks for me!

I can’t recommend the concept enough---reach out to folks who have a similar business to yours and start to talk. Some guidelines:

Lunch is good. “Breaking bread” with people elicits a level of communication not found elsewhere. No alcohol keeps it on track so lunch is better (I think) than cocktails after work or dinner. It’s also more finite. Folks have places they need to be after.

Make it regular, schedule the next meeting at the end of the current one when everyone’s got their calendar. Be respectful. Don’t miss a meeting. Everyone is busy. Make this exchange a priority. Nothing ruins networking faster than unreliability. Be discreet. Some of the things you discuss don’t need to be repeated. Be honest and direct in your communication. Good communication involves trust. I think the reason a group of potential competitors can get together and share at this level has everything to do with trust. Have a loose format for the exchange: we routinely share business books or articles, vendors, current challenges. That said, over time the informal topics creep in and we’ve learned a lot about each others’ outside-of-business life. This is actually a good thing and maybe easier with a woman in the group (?) because familiarity breeds more trust.



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