Quite a number of times, now, I’ve written about how important networking is for all of us. Today, I’ll tell yet another story about why networking is important.
This story seems to have nothing at all to do with laboratory informatics but I’ll tie it all together when I’m done and show my point:
A friend of mine works for a tiny startup. They’re so small that they have only one HPLC (really!). Like many startups, they don’t have much money to spare. So, he and his coworkers have taken to buying used lab equipment to stretch what little money they have. Unfortunately, of the last two pieces of equipment they bought, one piece didn’t actually work and the other wasn’t properly listed and they ended up buying something that didn’t have the right parameters on it.. They’re worse off than when they started because they still don’t have those two pieces of equipment and now have less money. He was telling me this sad tale but saying he needed to buy more used equipment and didn’t quite know what to do and needed some advice.
In the past, I’d stressed to him that, because he’s got no-one to ask at his company and, being so small, no real buying power, that he needed to work on building his network up in places like LinkedIn. He always tells me the same thing many others do, but here are my usual responses to him and others:
- I don’t have time for that. My response: Then you’ll run into the same problem each time where there’s no-one to help you and your smallness will not give you the benefit of flexibility but the defeat of having no resources in which to use that flexibility. Warning: These days, it’s a mistake to respond that you’re too busy for anything. Everyone is too busy and we’ll all have suggestions on how you can fit more into your day.
- I don’t want to share business cards with a bunch of people that will pester me for business. My response: Too bad. Like everyone else, you’re never at your desk to take those calls, so it’s not like you’ll have to deal with them, even if you got them. Delete the messages and move on. And if you end up answering one of those calls, politely say you’re not interested and hang up like the rest of us have learned to do. And, by the way, not everyone will pester you. Some of us are good at following-up so that we can electronically exchange information without constantly nagging at you. In fact, there are times when someone asks for my business card but won’t give me theirs (for just that reason). Later, they contact me for advice or help and I just can’t remember who they are. Normally, when I return from a conference, I exchange some e-mail or other messages with people I’ve met. When they later contact me, I look it up to refresh my memory. Without that as a way to look the person up, I meet so many people that I don’t remember every single one and, like most other people, more likely to help the ones I remember than the ones I don’t.
- I’m a scientist/LIMS Admin/ELN Admin/etc… and shouldn’t have to network. My response: If you never need advice from the outside world, if you always know what products and services to buy, if you never need help, then you don’t need to network. I hardly ever meet these people that never need help, but if you’re the exception, then hats off to you. Most people, even at the largest companies, are running short-handed and need a network of people to talk to, occasionally
Back to the Point
So, I could sit back and tell him “I told you so” and let him struggle, but because he’s such a good friend and because I’ve got a lot of contacts, I went out to help him. I don’t necessarily know people to ask about buying used lab equipment, but having a lot of connections, I can post to a public place and, usually, I’ll get at least a few answers on just about any question I ask.
Thus, whether the question is about buying used lab equipment, laboratory informatics, or something a bit more general such as database tuning, if you work on networking with people, you’re likely to get some kind of help even if the person responds with something like “I don’t know, but I think person X knows” or “I don’t know but have gotten some good information from web-site Y.” If it leads you to your help, that’s a step further than you were, before.
People who understand this will network with everyone, knowing their future answers could come from anywhere. People who don’t understand this look at people to ONLY have an immediate tie-in with whatever they’re doing and then, when they need answers their limited network can’t provide, throw their hands up and complain about it.
Side note: If you’re interested in the discussion about used equipment, you can read the answers I received in this LinkedIn Q&A: