I used to dislike networking.
I thought it was sleazy.
I thought networking meant being sleazy by trying to get a job or something from others by going to 50+ networking events or dealing with others with clear ulterior motives.
In fact, I’d been to a few, and it sucks. If people didn’t see any value , they would cut off the conversation, sometimes immediately.
Turns out that common perception of networking is only what below-average performing individuals experience and fulfill.
Those who succeed at networking and making friends are strategic, giving, loving, empathetic, friendly, and valuable. They are there to help you more than anything else, knowing that karma is real.
Sometimes, the way people act when networking is out of desperation or lack of knowledge.
A couple books really opened my eyes. Here are two that I’ve recently read that have been a great help: Never Eat Alone and The Power of Positive Thinking.
Why Is Networking Important?
Michael Ellesburg, author of the book The Education of Millionaires, states that it is a lie that we can just do enough tasks and check off enough boxes to become successful. He believes giving enormous value to successful people is vital for success.
While I don’t believe networking on its own will guarantee success, I’ve started to see that some degree of investment in authentic relationships is important.
Ellesburg asserts that society has taught people a lie: doing work on its own will get you ahead. He has rubbed shoulders with Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook and billionaire investor Peter Thiel (author of Zero To One), so I was intrigued.
How do you reach out to these people and form a genuine connection?
I was reading the billionaire and founder of LinkedIn Read Hoffman’s book The Start Up of You, and this introvert dedicated a whole chapter to the importance of networking.
Long story short, he emphasized the INCREDIBLE importance of having a network and team. A network of successful people brings success. Reid pointed to successful people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and then pointed to the network of people who helped them get there: Paul Allen, the Woz, Steve Ballmer, and so on.
People are successful because they stand on the shoulders of giants. In this case, 1+1=6 if you get the right people on board.
Choose The Right Networking Event
Going to a low-traffic, high quality attendee event can be much more impactful than a huge 50,000 attendee event. Find out exactly who you want to meet, why, and reverse-engineer the best conference, convention, or event.
How To Make Friends With Super Successful People
You HAVE to understand their perspective. All the information on successful networking builds on the foundation of empathy.
For a influential or successful person, they are being bombarded with hundreds of requests every day.
99.99% of people want something from them: advice, money, their time, or something else. It can be very draining, or annoying. Now that you understand this, you can do the opposite of this by being someone of value and stand out.
The crazy part is that it’s extremely rare. You can tell people to do this but they will still be value leeches for some reason. The blogger Ramit Sethi gets hundreds, if not thousands, of emails a day and he says despite talking about this publicly numerous times, 99% of people just email him asking for stuff.
Even if you understand this, many people still do it the wrong way. We’ll get to how.
How To Provide Value To Someone More Successful Than You
This is a common question: “How could I possibly provide something to someone more successful than me? I have nothing to offer!”
Let’s get to some of the big ones.
Give Free Advice or Service
“Why would I give advice to someone better than me?”
That’s a huge generalization. No one knows everything about everything. Everyone of you has some valuable advice in a skillset or area that can be helpful to someone who’s trying to do something big in the world.
Most people are on the extremes: too low confidence to think they have any advice or arrogant to the point of over-stepping and giving advice where they shouldn’t (think of the stranger on the internet who gives advice on investing millions of dollars on the Quora.com without ever having invested a single dollar himself).
Use some common sense to gauge yourself.
Examples: If you spent years perfecting your craft at writing as a job, you could help someone with their publishing and writing. Other skills you could offer for free include email automation, video production, design, or social media marketing.
Many people are too proud or lazy to work for free. A few hours a week for a few months could return you 100x the results with the connection you make in the future.
The keyword “free” is huge. There’s a lot of experiments done on how human’s react much more positively to the world “free.” One study found a dramatic increase in how many people bought something, even if it the difference between “free” and 1 cent.
A good script is:
find out what they’re goals/problems are, tell them why you are good at it, offer a free service or coffee meeting.
“What brings you here tonight? Oh, that’s awesome! I can understand how that’s important. What’s your biggest problem with that? Listen, I’ve been working in that field for 10 years. How about we get together for a coffee meeting so I can see how I can help you with that for free?”
Be The Connector
As you start forming relationships with successful people, be the guy who see’s valuable, potential connections and the one who introduces eachother. Invite people to events and let them know they are going to be there, form your own get together, or connect them online.
Look to genuinely help others.
Do the opposite of what sleazy people do. Sleazy people only do good things for others in order to get something back and you can easy tell by their body language or how they act. Actually care to give value first.
Keep It Non-Sleazy and Ethical
Use the Warren Buffett newspaper test.
Everything you do should be ethical to the point that if it were published on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post or Yahoo.com, you would be proud of it.
Quality Beats Quantity
I have found this to be true when attending networking related events, email outreach to people to connect, or asking for coffee meetings with successful people.
Note: I am still working on this so my results aren’t conclusive but I’ve started implementing on what I’ve learned and have reached out to hundreds of people so far.
I have been called out when I copy and paste emails or messages.
I have been caught.
People have even went out of their way to tell me what I did wrong.
One man, who was really good at email outreach (he’d done it for years) and networking, went out of his way to call me up and tell me all the things I did wrong (in a friendly way).
The big ones were:
- If you BCC in an email, people will sniff it out
- If you copy/paste and don’t personalize, they will sniff it out and call you out
- Be more specific, people don’t have time to figure out an answer to a vague problem
- Give them more of a specific explanation of who you are. If you’re too vague or broad or unclear, they can’t help or it’s annoying.
I have been studying a lot of successful email outreach individuals in the blogging scene.
A lot of them have to network and email to form connections and promote blog posts every week.
Here are the big things I learned from them that I have caught myself doing wrong and I have seen others fail at too:
- Being a leech or value taker (The entire email is asking for stuff. Busy people get this all day and it’s annoying)
- Rambling on for too long and not being concise (They’re busy. Cut to the chase)
- Not asking just 1 specific, clear question to be answered
Here’s Derek’s video on the topic:
The main point is:
Quality over quantity.
Ideally you want to do both, but I have been burned when I strayed into the quantity side just to get more responses.
You must work on the quality first.
If you’re getting a conversion rate of 5% who respond, it’s better to bring that up to 15% before you start emailing more people or copy/pasting responses. I have been burned doing this.
I think the same thing can apply to networking events.
Some people go to tons of events but they get nothing out of them. They burn hours every week on them. Although it’s better than sitting at home, it can be a false rationalization.
It can be one of those things you rationalize is productive when it’s barely productive.
Many people never move beyond being an average networker.
I think one of the big issues is that they never stop to think about what they’re doing and ask how you can increase your impact for the time you spend.
Maybe that means being more selective and doing your research on the highest impact networking events.
Maybe you have to look at yourself and realize that you suck at being a kind, warm person. Maybe it’s crappy body language. Maybe you’re being rude without realizing it. Maybe you’re coming off arrogant. Maybe you’re fashion and grooming is extremely off-putting.
I have seen all of these examples in real life and have seen people figure these out. To do so, it might require a group of people who you trust to point it out because you’re too biased yourself to identify them.
Realize Everyone Starts Out Bad
Almost everyone I have studied or who have helped me, including others I did not mention like multi-millionaire Brendon Burchard, have mentioned how they used to suck at this as well when they started.
Don’t fear if you suck at this.
Take the time to get better.
It is an acquired skill.
How To Avoid Being Boring
Use statements in between your questions so you’re not always asking questions, which can get annoying like you are interviewing or interrogating them.
Add your opinions or interesting stories in between questions to make it more interesting.
Ask people about why they do stuff. Talk about their interests and what they want. People care about themselves most above all else.
Sounds like common sense, but it’s not common practice.
Have A Large Sample Size
Don’t get hung up on one person or just test this out on one person and say it doesn’t work.
You need a larger amount of people to test this on to iron out the variations from random events that might influence things.
Avoid Using The Phrase “Pick Your Brain”
Generally speaking, asking for time to pick their brain doesn’t work. It triggers alarm bells for people since they get that phrase so often and it’s vague. What does that even mean? What do you actually want?
It’s true that average people don’t even bother trying and don’t use this phrase. However, it’s still over-used by people who try to network and truly successful people usually don’t have the time to do this. They get this way too often.
Also, the phrase implies a taker or value-leech mentality. Remove this phrase from your vocabulary.
In Person Meeting Guide & Pitching Guide
Take Initiative, Don’t Hang
If you’re meeting in person, don’t just sit there and wait for them to say something after you introduce yourself.
Avoid the bad habit of making them do all the work. Figure out what they’re interested, why they are there, and
Guide The Conversation Quickly To How You Can Help
You should find out about why someone is there and what their goals are. But make sure to guide it quickly to how you can help them. Otherwise, they may get annoyed or bored if you ask too many questions.
It doesn’t have to be too rushed or hurried as that may come off as desperate, but keep it in mind.
Show High Value Traits
Avoid coming off desperate with your mannerisms, body language, and words. This may take practice and friends to critique you.
Great ways to show high competence include smiling, talking slower, taking your time with your words, being concise and to the point, and confident body language (hands on your hips, chest out, and taking up more space in the room)
There’s a famous lecture by Amy Cuddy that shows that your body language shapes your hormones and confidence:
Emphasize The Importance Of Your Help
I learned this from Michael Ellesburg. I think it only truly works well if your service is of real value.
Make sure to emphasize and explain the importance of what you are helping them with.
“I bet it would be really bad if you had a security breach. What is the worst case scenario if something like that happened? I can see you understand how importance this is. Listen, I spent 10 years developing my skillset with this. How about I do a free audit for you to help you out.”
People are busy and sometimes overlook or don’t realize the importance of things. Keep it ethical and honest.
Throw Networking Parties
This is explained in detail in the book Never Eat Alone.
They don’t have to be huge events. It can just be 3 or 4 people. This is not to bring your buddies. This is for successful or relevant people in your business field.
The goal should be to get those you invite to bring 1 or 2 people outside of your circle that you are unfamiliar with to expand your circle. It is NOT to just reconnect with people you are already overly familiar with.
Use the keyword “champagne” (and actually have it there). People love it for some reason and it attracts people. Remember that your party can be as simple as elegant, cheap snacks like cheap wine and cheese.
Keep it fairly organized at the event. One thing you can start off with is to go around the table and ask them to introduce themselves and their biggest brag (credit to Ramit Sethi). This allows them to brag about themselves without being a douche and you get to learn about their achievements.
Rather than surrounding and pitching the star speaker like every other fool, what if we did the opposite? What if we talked to that person’s mom, publisher, or friend standing nearby alone? What if we emphasized small-talk and bonding over trying to get something from that person?
Tim Ferriss has a great podcast episode on this topic.
What if we showed offed less and kept our bios about ourselves brief and humble rather than over the top when asked?
We may just stand out and come across much more pleasant and memorable than everyone else.
Throw the Rules Out the Window Because People Vary
All networking advice, including everything mentioned, is general. The advice focuses on what will generally work best on most people. But people have different backgrounds and will react differently. You must use feedback and context to break the rules occasionally. A social media influencer with 1 million followers who lives in Kentucky may never get noticed or approached by any one of her followers in real life. She may love getting noticed or pitched. She may respect the initiative.
But an A-list celebrity with 500 million people who recognize him or her around the globe may be harassed everywhere. That person won’t enjoy getting pitched and probably has reactive, auto-pilot responses.
Treat Their Time With Value Because They May Just Change Your Life
Piggybacking off the last point of how people can vary, I must emphasize that just because you think someone has low to moderate success doesn’t mean that person has a bunch of free time and behaves like a average Joe what I mean is that you can just call that person up to small talk with them and chat about their day. You can’t go into that situation assuming that person as a bunch of free time that he or she wastes every day just watching TV or playing video games. It can look offensive or just plain ignorance if you keep asking that person to play video games or get coffee or just hitting that person up to small chat about the weather or some sports game whenever.
Often, that person has stuff to do for your career and to improve their life. They have important stuff that takes up their day and their bewildered when you come with this assumption that they have all this free time that they’re willing to spend with you or that you’re okay with aimlessly small talking for the next hour with someone they just met.
Frankly, with anyone you meet, you should respect his or her time and assume he or she has the power to change your life, because he or she just might. You’ll have to pander like a beggar with their free time, asking just for two minutes of your time. But showing some level respect for their time rather than none whatsoever can make a huge dip. I’ve been on the sending and receiving side of this experience and learned to the real world.
Networking doesn’t have to be sleazy. People who are bad at it makes it look sleazy.
It can be a great way to make friend and connections with super successful people, even if you aren’t there yet yourself.
Remember these key points:
- Genuinely serve others first.
- Direct the conversation to how you can help them for free
- Be warm, friendly, smile, be kind, with confident body language
- Quality over quantity.
- Personalize every message you send out to people
- Be clear, concise, and specific.
- Get people you trust to point out errors in your demeanor, grooming, fashion, body language, and other things that you don’t notice yourself.
It may seem simple, but when you actually try and do it, it takes practice. Start small and don’t begin with the most powerful person you can think of.
Note: This is not an end-all guide to networking with successful people. It is just what I have picked up that is most useful. I suggest you check out these books for further details and instruction from people who are really good at this: Never Eat Alone, How To Win Friends and Influence People, and The Education of Millionaires
Successful business owners naturally have to be good at networking to find opportunities, get connections, get customers, or find great people to hire. It’s a very helpful skill to acquire.
Do you have any techniques I haven’t listed that has produced great, quantifiable results? I’d love to hear about it.
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