Advocating vs. Networking


We all attend a lot of business events.  When you go, what’s your plan?  Most people either show up without any plan or bet on the limp trifecta of an elevator pitch, a business card exchange, and a hope for the best.  Derek couldn’t have spelled this out better in his awesome book, Networking is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections.  And here’s a complementary approach to make meaningful connections.

The next time you plan to attend a business event, consider going an intention of creating a community of advocates.  Put aside the plan of attracting someone who will buy from you or introduce you to someone who will.  And instead actively seek out people who you want to connect with and advocate for.  People you like, people who provide a service or sell a product you like, people with an inspiring story, people you’d like to get to know better.

What?!  Why would I do that?  Answer:  Because you show up differently when you are looking for someone to advocate for than when you are looking for business.  As a potential advocate, you show up as interested (and therefore interesting) and helpful, thoughtful and curious.  More people will remember their conversation with you and you’ll separate yourself from the crowd.  You’ll meet some awesome people, make a deeper connection and filter out the self-interested people faster (because they don’t get around to asking about you).

What do I mean by advocate?  Advocating can look a lot of different ways.  For instance, you can like their Facebook page, follow them on social media and share their posts with your network.  You can share their news with your network using a service like Newsle.  You can introduce them to colleagues, donate to their favorite charities.  You can write reviews for books they’ve written or provide them a testimonial on LinkedIn. You can give to their crowdfunding campaign or connect them with opportunities to speak.

Advocating is easy and it feels good.  It doesn’t require a substantial commitment of time or money.  And it focuses on people’s positives.  It builds connection and breeds cross-advocacy.  Advocacy creates a “rising tide that floats all boats”.

Here’s an example.  A couple of years ago, Derek introduce me to CADRE member, Ian Altman.  I liked him right away.  (How can you not, right?!)  He’s warm, positive and jovial.  Plus, he’s a killer speaker and his clients rave about him.  So, I quietly decided that I would advocate for Ian, because I like him and I think he’s freaking awesome.

These are the kinds of ways I’ve advocated for Ian.  I recommend his two day workshop to my clients, I auditioned him to speak at my last TEDx conference, I tweet lines from his Forbes column every week, I introduced him to my husband who is a good business contact for him, I recommend his books to my entrepreneur friends, I let people know his book was recommended by Seth Godin in a blog post.

To be clear, Ian is not a close friend or a client or even someone I know very well.  I’ve never told him I’m advocating for him and I don’t make it obvious to him.  I feel good when I advocate for him because I think the world should have more “Ian”.  And that’s why I do it.  And I’m fortunate to know and advocate for lots of “Ians”.  I’m better for it and I think the world is too.

On the other side, Ian has recommended me to speak, he has supported me with my clients, and he has told people about the value my clients have said they get from working with me.  Recently, I was asked to be on a compensated advisory board that he’s on and I suspect he had something to do with it.  And he acknowledges when he knows I have advocated for him.  I’ve never asked him for any of that or expected it and it feels great.

Obviously, you don’t want to advocate for everyone and not everyone you advocate for will advocate for you.  And that’s OK.  When someone you’ve advocated for consistently over time does nothing to advocate for you, there’s information in that, which you can choose to act on or not.

Twice now, I have quickly built a healthy CEO coaching practice in cities where I knew no one.  And both times, I did it by freely advocating for great people and enjoying the opportunities that came from that.

Next time you are at a business event, take on the intention of connecting with at least one spectacular person for whom you want to advocate.  Then find ways to advocate for them.  You’ll enjoy the event much more and make some truly enriching connections in the process.


This post was written by guest contributor, Alison Whitmire. Alison is a coach and speaker for business leaders, with a focus on helping them connect with their sense of purpose and make an impact in the world. She is also an organizer and curator of TEDx events. You can connect with Alison on her website and on Twitter @CEOCoachDC.


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