“Hi! My name’s Bob, from World’s Best Company!”
His smile is somewhat nervous, a little bit over-the-top, as he slips me his business card. I sip my champagne and nod at all the right moments during his spiel, making eye contact periodically to keep up the pretense that I’m tuned in.
It’s the same story I’ve heard 37 times in the past two hours, and I’ve perfected my “intently listening” look while also maintaining a facade of sobriety. An endless array of self-employed gurus who are intent on only one thing: sharing just how important they are in the grand scheme of things.
The thing is, I don’t give a shit because I don’t know Bob from Adam. I could give a rat’s ass about him, his products or his services because I never met him before tonight.
The Lie of Networking Events
Traditional networking events are grand affairs put on and attended by people who are mostly, in the very sense of the word, working professionals. They generally have a functioning business and are interested in getting out there and rubbing shoulders with others who are working in the same fields as themselves, because they’ve been told over the years that this is how it’s done. If you want to make it big you have to go to events, hand out business cards and get your face out there so people can get to know you.
In principle, it’s a good idea. Because after all, a hermit can’t make money. Someone who locks themselves away in the confines of their darkened basement will never sell any products or find a niche for their art. The only way to find customers and clients is to get your product out there. You have to be willing to network and spread the information about your product to as many people as possible to maximize your results. It’s the difference between being Johnny Johnson or Suzy Smith with the lemonade stand.
Unfortunately, networking events are not the best place to find potential clients, customers and, more importantly, peers who are interested in working on joint ventures side by side with you, sharing in the profits and the rewards while also sharing the work load. Instead, networking events are filled with people who have only one goal in mind: sharing information about their own product or project while handing out business cards and hoping they get lucky with one or two “big fish”. It’s the equivalent of casting your line into the river over and over and over again, waiting for a nibble that you can hook and then reel in.
A networking event is a limited, one-time affair. You are given a finite moment of time to make your mark on another individual. While people might remember your face, chances are they won’t remember your name, your spiel or anything about your business by the time they leave the event, because they are there for the same reasons as you: to hand out business cards and try to hook a client or two.
It’s impersonal, it’s old-fashioned and it’s completely useless in the modern era of social media, globalization and affiliate marketing.
Coworking In The Modern Era
“Hey, Tim!!” Bob puts his laptop bag and two coffees on the table next to my laptop and settles his frame into the chair adjacent to my own. He adjust the height on the chair and places one of the coffees in front of me, then leans back, fingers spider-webbing across the back of his head. “Did you see that YouTube video last night from the TBU convention on Tuesday?”
I nod my head as I take a sip of coffee. He shared the link with me last night as we were wrapping up our day in the coworking space we both work out of several times per week. Bob runs a blog on hacking for a living, and traveling the world as a nomad, similar to my own blog, although I focus on immersion travel as opposed to backpacking.
I’ve known Bob for about three months now, and for the last two weeks we’ve been working on developing a joint-venture webinar series, combining the power of our two communities to bring in guest speakers and earn some extra cash by working together. We also have a third wheel, Deborah, who isn’t going to be in the office today. She’s a friend of his and after a few weeks of getting to know one another we all decided to pitch in and work on a project together since we all have the same goals and a similar style of writing.
I’m personally invested with Bob and Deborah because I’ve been working side-by-side with them for the past three months. We’ve gone out for beers, we buy each other coffee and donuts, we’ve shared travel stories, photos, YouTube videos and more importantly, we’ve built up the personal rapport required to develop empathy with each other.
In short, we’ve become more than just peers: we’ve become somewhat of friends through similar goals, directions and proximity. Rather than only knowing Bob from his 90 second spiel and a plastic business card, I’ve grown to know who Bob is as a person. We’ve worked side by side in the same office for several months, talked about pets and family, and eventually after a few months we decided to pool our resources for mutually-beneficial results on a temporary side project.
Coworking is a social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values and are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with like-minded, talented people in the same space.
I don’t give a shit about Bob and his 90 second spiel at the networking event because I don’t know him from Adam. Bob my nomadic peer, on the other hand, is someone who I’m personally invested in. We work well together, we both like dark beers, we both have a passion for traveling, we both blog for a living, we enjoy good food, quiet cafes, and Latin women.
Not only that, but working with Bob gives me the unique advantage of doubling my earning potential while at the same time working with someone whose opinion I not only respect but also value. I’m not just working with some random stranger I’ve only ever met one time at an event where I was half-drunk and tuned out the whole time. I’m working with a friend, a colleague, and someone who I’m personally invested in. I want to see Bob succeed as much as I want to succeed myself, because he’s my friend and working partner, not just some random douche.
On top of that, working in an environment with others who are dong the same thing as you breeds a healthy sense of coordinated competition. Competition is the driving force behind human innovation. A desire to “one up” your peers is what has led to every great discovery in the history of humanity. Without competition we wouldn’t have the light-bulb, Internet, MP3s, YouTube, global connectivity and beyond. Without healthy competition Aristotle, Leonardo, Plato and others would never have pushed revolutionary ideas forward amongst their peers, continually striving for perfection and betterment; instead, they would have stagnated in a basement of forgotten dreams.
Synergy is only formed through a relationship built up out of mutual respect and same-mindedness. It also only happens over time as people learn how to work with each other. And only through synergy are greater ideas born, because one set of eyes will only ever see a single point of view regarding a given project. Multiple eyes viewing the project from multiple angles = new and exciting ways for the project to evolve that you would never have thought of on your own.
It is the evolution of human innovation in all its glory: multiple brilliant minds overcoming challenges together and building something that is stronger because of the numerous passions intertwined together ensuring the success of the project.
The Power of Trust
The reason I don’t give a shit about Bob at the networking event is because I don’t know him. If I don’t know him, I don’t trust him, and if I don’t trust him, how can I realistically ever do business with him, much less even be interested in what he has to say?
The real power of coworking lies in the trust that is built up between member in the same working environment. The empathy that is built up over time, the relationships, are what lead to equal opportunity sharing of like-minded blog posts, videos and projects, but more importantly, joint ventures.
If I don’t know Bob, I could care less what he does for a living. I’m never going to read his blog posts, talk about his videos with my friends, share his content with my own community of followers or purchase any of his products or services. But if I have a personal relationship with Bob, I’m invested. I’m sharing his content because it’s valuable and not only that, he’s my friend and I want to see him succeed alongside me.
No one you meet at a networking event will share your content based off a first-time conversation. In fact, the chances of them remembering your name, much less your business or even your face, after that networking event when they met another 50+ people at the same time, are almost nill.
But when you work in the same space with that person over weeks and months and get to know them, share coffee and beers and life experiences and stories and jokes and conversations, as you build a relationship with them, you find people who are personally invested in you and what you have to say with your brand. People who respect your opinion, who want to share your information with their own communities, and maybe even eventually work with you or invest in your company.
Trust is built up over time. It is not magically created through the presentation of a business card and a 90 second spiel. It requires cultivation, just like a plant. And this is the true power of coworking, because you build up trust with your coworkers and relationships that last for years to come as opposed to only a fake smile and a “nice to meet you” handshake with no heart.
What are some of your favorite aspects of coworking? Do you have any coworking success stories you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below and let us know!