Who are you trying to find? In networking, it’s important to define your target market. This is often understood to mean customers and clients, but in the case of networking it can be broader. It depends on what your reasons for networking are. You might be looking for friends, collaborators, suppliers, employees, etc.

In any case, it’s helpful to identify the kind of person you’re looking for and use that to guide your networking efforts. For a fuller explanation of why and how, take a look at my previous post on finding your people, here.

Some people find this idea distasteful. There’s a sense that zeroing in on the kind of people you want to connect with is mean. Discriminatory. Unfair. Snobbish.

I understand this logic. No one wants to be the meanie who looks down their nose at people, for whatever reason. No one wants to be the guy who snubs and rejects people. That’s gross networking. That’s the kind of networking we hate. Of course it is.

Here’s the thing, though: you can be intentional in your networking without being mean. Knowing who your ideal connections are does not have to mean mistreating anyone else.

Being intentional informs your strategy for your outgoing networking effort. It’s about picking the events and other venues for connection that are most likely to attract the kind of people you’re looking for. It’s about optimizing your choices to create more of the most beneficial connections for you.

Nothing in that says you have to shun anyone who approaches you. Nothing in that says you have to be rude or dismissive or disrespectful. Nothing in that says you have to turn down a request for help from anyone, especially if you genuinely think they can benefit from your services and they are willing to pay your rates.

For one thing, it’s possible to decline someone’s overtures for connection in a kind, honest and respectful way. For another, if someone is trying to make a connection with you there’s no harm in engaging with them, at least for a little while, even if you don’t think they’re a perfect fit for what you have in mind.

So go ahead – identify your target group(s). Tailor your efforts to focus on finding those people. AND keep being open, kind, and welcoming to all. The two are not mutually exclusive.