We know that most people will only pay attention to you per an introduction from someone else.
(The only time that I send someone a “cold” email is if we have absolutely 0 connections in common, there’s no way for me to try and organically meet them, and I am very confident that they have some great insights to share. For me, this means founders of similar ventures elsewhere in the world.)
I find talking about how to network a bit awkward because networking means walking the fine line between meeting my goals and being a compassionate person by helping someone else meet theirs. The two are not mutually exclusive, but with limited time, they can seem to be. The balance is different for everyone, but below are some of my thoughts.
Of course, reading people is critical to any outcome. It will seem desperate and ignorant if you try to really connect with someone not interested; it will seem rude if you completely ignore someone very interested in you.
Meeting my goals means:
- Preparing key messages — beyond the elevator pitch, think about answers to key questions—being assured & organized maximizes the effectiveness of the message
- Understanding your ask — are you looking for a co-founder? Funding? Have a goal in mind in order to direct the conversation efficiently
- Targeting specific individuals — if there’s a guest list, review it in advance to make a note of specific individuals to meet (e.g., based on relevant industry experience)
- Moderating alcohol — stay sharp & consistent in your ability to process the conversation
- Being efficient — think about when you want to “leave” the conversation or how you want to guide it (note this also applies to thinking about which of the 100s of events you will attend)
- Seeding next steps—proactively tee-up a coffee chat to 1) gauge their interest and 2) get an excuse to email them with something other than “good meeting you!”
Being helpful to others means:
- Keeping up-to-date on current events — you never know what people are looking for; try to always “add value” by keeping abreast on a diverse array of issues
- Listening (really) — it’s easy to tell if you’re half-listening so when please commit (don’t interrupt or re-direct too much, don’t look elsewhere or be “antsy”)
- Offering something of value to their interests — always offer something (personal advice, an article/resource, a contact); even if they don’t accept, this is a good gesture
- Being polite — even if the other person is not likely to be helpful to you, consider a “minimum” of time you’ll invest in the conversation (depending on how engaged they are)
After the event, remember that networks do decay! (I swear I’ve seen studies on mathematical decay rates.) Keep in touch in a smart way. For me, this means (still keeping the above tips in mind):
- Different mailing lists with different content & frequency of mail
- Spreadsheet of key individuals to manage early relationship building (e.g., tracks when we connect, future meeting dates)
- Ad hoc communications—congratulations on new jobs (per LinkedIn) or sending them articles they’d be interested in
This blarticle was written in the context of building a product that helps people borrow occasional-use items (e.g., sleeping bags, electric drills) from their friends & neighbors. Check out the prototype here.