12 TIPS FOR NETWORKING LIKE A PRO
1. BE YOURSELF
Start with being yourself, whatever that means to you: goofy, serious, quirky, you name it. The more real you can be, the more people will remember you. Next, be interested in what others are doing. If you can help them get what they want, you’re a lot more likely to form lasting relationships. Most deals aren’t made in the first few meetings. It’s about the long-term relationship. Connect people you believe could benefit from each other, and don’t hold back with what you can do or offer to help others.
2. GIVE OF YOURSELF
I’ve had the fortune to hear Brad Feld speak a few times. He shares a consistent message: give of yourself without expecting anything in return. My experience is that this advice is spot-on. When you offer your help and time, you not only meet interesting people, but you also learn how to solve diverse problems.
The side benefit is that by engaging with others on topics they are passionate about, you will help them be able to judge your personality and capabilities. These individuals will become part of your network and be more willing to make warm introductions to their contacts.
3. VET YOUR MEETINGS CAREFULLY
Being a sophomore at Duke, I have had the fantastic opportunity of being connected to many people. I have learned quickly that just because I am young does not mean my time is not valuable. I understand that I of course have a lot to learn. That being said, I know that taking an hour out of my day is certainly easy enough to meet with someone that could be the next big someone. But it is essential to understand who the good meetings are and who maybe isn’t. I usually set up a call or communicate via email to chat a little to learn about their interest in meeting prior to actually meeting.
4. FIND A NETWORKING WINGMAN
For any networking event, it can be helpful to have a networking “wingman.” Together, you can naturally draw others into your conversation. This is particularly true if your networking wingman is knowledgeable about an industry you are unfamiliar with. If nothing else, the event will provide you with an opportunity to get to know your networking wingman better.
5. HAVE MULTIPLE TOUCHPOINTS WITH YOUR TOP 20 PERCENT
The adage quality over quantity holds true when it comes to networking. Sure, LinkedIn, Twitter or SXSW allow you to cast a wide net and gather lots of new connections. But you need to have a top 20% that you can focus on and actually GIVE value to. Try to get as many touchpoints with these people — a coffee at a conference, a handwritten thank you note, a personal email, a tweet. Multiple touchpoints are key.
6. WORK THE PUZZLE
I think of networking as fitting puzzle pieces together. When I meet or reconnect with someone who mentions a need (it may be a sales lead, a job opening they’re looking to fill or a recommendation for an auto shop), my neurons begin firing until I come up with one (or several) possible connections to make for him or her. I then ask if he or she would like an introduction to said person/people. If yes, I make it within no more than 24 hours. The key is to do what you promise in a timely manner.
7. CREATE A PROFESSIONAL BLOG
There are a lot of different opinions about how much time a hustling entrepreneur should spend networking. When it comes down to it, your time’s probably best spent either a) meeting with potential customers/users or b) building your product. A blog can anchor your infrequent face-to-face meetings with thought leadership and personality. It’s a very effective way to efficiently interact with fellow entrepreneurs and investors without burning a lot of time traveling or missing out on precious sleep.
8. FOLLOW UP
It takes multiple interactions for most people to remember you after you’ve met the first time. I make a point of looking for natural ways to follow up — even emailing a link to an interesting article is enough to make yourself a little more memorable. The fact that it’s natural is important. You can’t immediately start selling to someone you just met (unless you want to be labeled as that annoying sales guy). Rather, you need to build a normal relationship that happens to provide an opportunity for both of you to benefit.
9. JOIN THE LOCAL CHAMBER
For starters, join your local chamber. We’ve had a tremendous amount of exposure as a result of being active in our local chamber. We did this early on, and it helped us connect with C-level execs really quickly. Book speaking gigs so you and your brand are exposed to a large audience.
10. TAKE TIME TO MAKE TIME
Building a strong professional network takes time. I’ve found that the best tip for networking is to make a conscious effort to SCHEDULE it in my calendar. Every Monday morning for about 90 minutes I scan trades, blogs, and my own LinkedIn contacts to look for recent job changes and promotions. Then, I take time to send congratulatory notes to everyone who’s made a move. When applicable, I invite them to go out for lunch or a drink to celebrate their advancement. It’s a great, easy way to reconnect, and a good time to ask that person to introduce me to someone else in their network.
11. IDENTIFY COMMON MINDSETS
Instead of trying to network with everybody and anybody, identify people who are like you and share the same mindset. Look for people who might be in the same age group or the same growth phase with their own companies. Don’t just limit yourself to connections within your own industry. Good connections within other industries are often the most beneficial.
12. PRESENT QUESTIONS OR CHALLENGES
I’ve connected with a number of senior executives of companies far bigger than mine by simply explaining my vision and what I’m trying to build. Let them know you are impressed with their backgrounds and would love to pick their brains. Most successful executives would love to participate or help a company they believe has great potential and is likely to implement their ideas. It allows them to think creatively again. In short, the people you actually want to talk to will be energized by the opportunity to dig into your challenges if you present them the right way.