Business owners swear by the “good old boy” network. That is, your best resource for business is a well-connected network. It’s important to discern between social and business networking. The two, while not necessarily mutually exclusive, are rarely the same, especially for younger business owners who are still socially bound to roommates, teammates and family members. The folks in these networks are social connections and, unless you attended an Ivy League university with well-connected people, are rarely avenues to serious money. Well-meaning friends can be the source of terrible business meetings and time-wasting, non-clients who can at best provide you with barter or small income opportunities. (NOTE: Don’t underestimate the value of a good trade: I’ve traded services to have my house cleaned, my hair done and my house painted by some of the best in the business.)
What you are trying to find, every day, are business associates who may or may not become friends. Business associates are people in a decision-making position, have a budget and are serious about doing business. Social connections are people that are described as, “a real sweetheart” or “a good guy”. Terms of endearment may be flags that people are social connections and not serious business prospects. It’s good to learn the difference so you can decide if you want to help someone out of the goodness of your heart. I assume that any time a friend has a friend who wants help that I wont be making any money. I’ll be doing a favor for a friend and having coffee with someone who might know or become someone with a real project.
At the onset of any meeting, you should ask about budget. Sit down with your coffee, smile broadly, and ask, “Do you have a budget for this project?” It’s not rude to get down to business in a business meeting. It’s a disaster to spend time and share ideas with someone and then be told that there’s little or no budget.
It certainly isn’t a waste of time to meet new people, no matter what their circumstance, but remember the golden rule: to succeed in business you need to make sure that you are managing your time well and are always doing the most important thing you need to be doing.