New to Town? 7 Ways to Grow Into Your New Shell
A few weeks ago I had an interview at an accelerator in Boston. I was so honored to be asked that I flew in from Chicago (where I was still living at the time) just for the day to sit down face-to-face. There really is no replacement for meeting someone in person.
I remember sitting in this small room in downtown Boston talking to two of the heads of this accelerator, and they’re asking me about startups in the area. Do you know X company? How about Y company? They ask.
I calmly shake my head, and I realize where this is going. I’m beginning to look like someone who has no finger on the pulse of the startup ecosystem. It’s not because I’m unknowledgeable, of course. It’s because they’re naming startups that launched in the Northeast, and my entire startup knowledge has been focused on the region I launched my business in — the Midwest.
When I walked out of the interview, all I could think about was how you never realize how important a network is until you leave it. Then when you do, you have to re-prove all of your knowledge and experience to a new audience. There’s no one to vouch for you.
To name a more extreme example, it made me incredibly sensitive to the experience of immigrants. I’m feeling the pain of moving my professional network and I’ve only moved from one major US city to another. Imagine someone who’s from an entirely different country. I’m impressed by anyone who has been able to move past that obstacle, especially those who have had to do it in a second language.
When you’re an entrepreneur like me, it’s entirely your responsibility to build your own network again.
To get to know the city, to make friends, to know the parking rules (my husband and I have enough parking tickets to prove that we’re still learning this).
It’s not easy to acclimate, but you can treat it like a game. How quickly can you find an adorable mom-and-pop El Salvadorian restaurant? Or the place that you tell your visitors to park if they want to avoid having to get a vistors’ permit?
As a newbie, you also have the power of four special words behind you: “I’m new to town.” Utter this magic phrase and people will suddenly become friendlier and more helpful. There is an expiration date on that magic, so use it while you can.
Here are some other ways to get the most out of your new city while you can effectively claim newbie status.
Before you arrive:
1. Make your own seasonal events guide
The summer guide I put together for my husband, Marvin
Spend a full day with a mug of hot coffee, a laptop, and limitless wifi, and start googling what to do in your new city for the upcoming season. In my case, I moved just after summer began in Boston, so I searched for things like “Boston summer events” or “things to do in Boston” (readers’ note: the rest of this recommendation becomes very “Type A” from here, but I assure you, it’s really useful!).
I then created a PowerPoint with three categories for me and my husband: daytime events, date night activities, and anytime events. The first encapsulates festivals and other events that have a finite start and end date. The second is evening activities that happen on Friday nights, which is our official date night (yes, we have a date night), like shows and concerts. And the third is those activities that you can pretty much do anytime — taking the swan boats through the Boston Public Garden, for example, or biking the Blue Heron Trail.
Create a slide for each event which a picture and a short description. Then create a slide for each month that includes a calendar view of what’s going on and when. It’s an absolutely tedious job, but you’ll find that you really get to know what the city has to offer very quickly.
For example, I’ve learned that Boston has an open market in the SOWA neighborhood on Sundays, and free admission to select museums on Fridays. I know how long the new Cirque du Soleil show is in town, and what restaurants in my neighborhood have their own recurring events. And the best part is, while I’m busy acclimating to my new city, I don’t need to spend time at work looking up what to do on Friday night. I already have my own events calendar ready to go with things that interest me.
2. Reach out to the professional contacts you’re leaving behind.
This serves two purposes: first, you can send them a nice email thanking them for your time together and making sure that you stay in touch.
But you can also use this as an opportunity to ask them who they know in your new city. If you’re moving to a pretty big city within the same country, most people will know at least someone, even if it’s not a professional contact but an old friend or family member. Use your contacts to jump-start your network in your town, and use your move as an opportunity to bring the conversation into the light in a completely natural way.
3. Troll Twitter for people “in the know” in your industry.
Sometimes you can find pre-made Twitter lists if you google around enough. Other times you can find people using select keywords or through Twitter’s own recommendations after following a similar user. Create a list so that you can follow them and keep up with the topics they’re discussing.
I ended up creating three Twitter lists (I know, I know, of course I did). The first is general news about Boston from news outlets, magazines, etc. This also includes Boston-area events guides and blogs. The second is startup-specific information from local entrepreneurs, accelerators/incubators, VCs, and other resources (you can of course adjust this to whatever professional industry you’re in). The third is specifically for those tweeting about my neighborhood, Southie. That includes locals who post about Southie activities, neighborhood guides, and even restaurants that put on activities and events. It really came in handy when I was looking for information about parking regulations on holidays — two Twitter users were glad to lend a hand when I tweeted them directly.
After you arrive:
4. Set up coffee dates with new professional contacts.
Find them from the contacts you reached out to above, or on social media like LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also check out your local alumni association (even better if they have a local alumni Facebook group). Meet them in a location that’s convenient to them, so that you can explore a new area of town. Buy their drink. Then, at the end of every meeting, ask them to introduce you to at least one other person that you might benefit from meeting up with.
5. Subscribe to daily news digests from your local newspapers and blogs and read them every morning before heading to work.
Use this as an opportunity to unsubscribe from your old resources in your old city — the quick “rip of the Band-Aid” will feel a lot better if you’re subscribing to emails for your new city while you unsubscribe from the old ones. You’ll be surprised how quickly you might pick up on some of the local “water cooler” conversations — as well as the local politics.
6. Make a list of all the cafes in the area within a 30 minute walk and spend an afternoon working from each of them.
It’ll give you an opportunity to get a real lay of the land and learn your city, while also finding potential work sites if you work from home like I do. Sometimes when you settle too quickly into a new town you’ll get too accustomed to your “go to” places and miss out on some real gems. Use your newness as an opportunity to try everything once. You might be surprised about what you find.
7. Throw a party, even if you can only invite a couple of people.
Barbecue on your porch or make brunch or plan a picnic. Then ask each guest to bring one or two friends that they’d like for you to meet. This will not only give your friends the chance to know where you live and remember that you’re actually in town now, but it’ll open you up to making new friends. Don’t be afraid to come out and say “I’m new to town and I’m looking to make friends.” Everyone who’s ever moved understands that experience and no one will think less of you for it.
I hope, as I get to learn my new city, that some of these tips are useful to any of you who are moving as well. And if I missed some good ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments below! A new city doesn’t have to be about losing the past. It can also be about discovering, learning, and growing into a new pair of shoes. So, let’s let the growing begin, shall we?