As an advisory partner at professional services company EY, Scott Porter works with public and privately-held companies in the media, entertainment and technology sectors. With more than two decades of experience leading complex projects and integrated global teams, Porter also works as the program director for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year program in Greater Los Angeles, where he helps identify and recognize influential entrepreneurs.
Early on, I thought networking should happen overnight, and I didn’t really understand that those relationships take time. And time is my most valuable asset, as well as the most valuable asset of others. It’s not just me who is having to invest my time in getting to know somebody and building that relationship. I didn’t recognize that I was asking the other side to do the same thing—to invest their time, which is scarce, in building a relationship with me.
There was an individual I had worked with early on in my career, for example, and I was a couple years ahead of that person within the firm. I saw him as just a colleague and didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know him or understanding what his personal and professional career goals were, and he ended up leaving the firm.
He resurfaced years later as the president of one of the most high-profile companies on the West Coast. Fortunately, we reconnected and we have now spent time building a relationship, but I think back on how much stronger the relationship could have been had I taken time 20-plus years ago to get to know him.
I learned to stop thinking of networking as collecting business cards.
Something I learned early on in my career, and I try to share it with people now, is that you don’t look at networking just for the sake of networking. You really need to build sustainable relationships.
That was the shift, when I learned to stop thinking of networking as collecting business cards. You have to ask yourself how many of those connections are true relationships? I ask our younger people at our training sessions, the real test of those key clients that you have is, how many of their personal cell phone numbers do you have? How many of them would respond to you if you sent them a text?
Building that long-lasting and valuable professional network has to start early on. What I’ve learned is, rather than look at it as how can somebody help me, I need to look at it as, how I can help others? That’s where the value comes into having that professional relationship so you don’t come across like you’re just in it to be self-serving. You’re there to equally contribute to this relationship. You’re interested in the person and you’re interested in what their career goals are.
What I try to do now is look for ways in which the professional goals of those I’m trying to maintain within my network or grow my network are complementary to mine. It’s not a zero-sum game where someone is going to win out over the other, it’s about how we succeed together in furthering our interests.
What it comes down to is understanding that those relationships take time to form and develop. You can be so focused on going down the pathway that you have laid out for yourself, you can miss the opportunities to get to know these people that are popping up along the way.
Currently, a lot of people rely very heavily on social media, but it’s important to be able to build that personal relationship, and it has to be face-to-face. LinkedIn and Twitter are great for making a connection, but I wouldn’t count all the people I have on my LinkedIn as true relationships.
Photo courtesy of Scott Porter.