If you’re anything like me, your email inbox is probably a mess. I get at least a few hundred emails a day. The ones from people I recognize get opened. The rest? Though I promise myself I’ll get to them eventually, I’ve had to declare “email bankruptcy” more than once.
Snail mail, on the other hand, is a different story. When a letter or package crosses my desk, I’ll generally open it. Over the years, some very smart folks out there have used this to their advantage to get on my radar. I’ve gotten books, gift baskets, t-shirts (including a nice one recently from PickWaste) and fuzzy mascots, generally accompanied by handwritten notes. In almost every instance, the senders have succeeded in their mission — grabbing my attention, if only for a few moments, to make an intro or a sales pitch or to ask for a follow-up call.
The all-time best example was a package containing a custom, wooden puzzle box (like this one). I could hear something rattling around inside; but, try as I might, couldn’t figure out how to open it. There was a phone number attached to the box. I broke down and called, and a sales consultant picked up. In the course of walking me through the solution, he delivered a pretty decent elevator pitch.
Gimmicky? No doubt. Effective? For sure.
Start with the basics
At the risk of ending up with a room full of puzzles, let me be clear: this is just one way to get your foot in the door (and probably won’t work twice on me). The real key here, as in all networking efforts, is to find a way to stand out and make an impression. Sometimes, exploiting the “novelty factor” — doing something unexpected or original — is the surest way to get noticed. More often than not, though, building a real connection starts with going the extra mile: doing your homework, asking the right questions and providing value rather than asking favors.
Case in point, I recently received a very unique “resume” from a junior developer: a link to a “Hootsuite version” of his C.V. He had recreated — from scratch — the look and feel of our dashboard, but in place of streams of social updates were streams of his experience and accomplishments. This not only showed off his technical chops, but also showed his love for our product — something any founder would find hard to resist.
But, of course, the initial connection is just the beginning. Real networking between two people unfolds over years or entire careers and is deeply reciprocal, not quid pro quo. It’s built on asking, “How can I help?” and consistently delivering, without expecting anything in return. In that respect, the best business networking and the basic laws of karma have an awful lot in common.
I think there’s one more key to successful networking: you’ve got to really, really want it. The people who are hungry, who truly believe in their idea or their mission, find a way. Not only is their passion contagious, but they’re willing to invest the time, energy and creativity to meet the right partners and make the right introductions. I run into entrepreneurs and aspiring leaders like this all the time: youth entrepreneurs in my charity, League of Innovators; colleagues at my own company; even people I’ve never met in real life that have connected with me online.
Crowd-Sourced Networking Hacks
Here are some of their top networking hacks, crowdsourced and compiled below. Thanks so much to everyone who shared their brilliant ideas (edited for length and clarity):
- Instagram Your Resume: “I decided to try an unconventional approach to get a recruiter’s attention. I created an Instagram resumé. This approach ended up getting the attention of Gary Vaynerchuk and he shared this with his 1.57 million followers on Twitter!” — Sam Park, CEO of Instinctx
- Stop Talking About Business: “People like to talk about who they are, not just what they do. I recently met someone at a networking event and after realizing that I am an only child and she has an only child we had a great conversation about our shared experiences.” — Daniela Pico, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Riipen
- Give, Don’t Take: “I try to find ways to add value — whether that be in the form of connections or advice. Even if the person has more experience than you, I try to incorporate my different worldview and viewpoint that could be an interesting contribution. I truly believe if you help another entrepreneur without any expectations, it will come back to benefit you.” — Judy Yu, Founder of Prosh
- Follow Up, No Strings Attached: Getting the meeting is just the first step. I try to find at least one thing the individual mentions they like and send them that afterwards as a thank you; no follow up ask, just a thanks. During an initial meeting, one of the founders of Club Penguin mentioned he goes to Starbucks every morning. The very next day, I sent him a thank you note and a gift card for Starbucks.” — Jeremy Becker, Co-Founder and CEO of MedConnect
- Skip Email; Go Social: “Everyone is bombarded with messages in their email inbox, whereas LinkedIn inboxes are typically far less full. What I like to do is send a connection request along with a concise yet well-crafted message as to why, and then once I am actually connected I follow up with a more detailed note — Priscilla Lavoie, Head of Incubation at Demium Barcelona
- Go The Extra TEN Miles: “I wanted to connect for a meeting with the COO of Shopify, Harley Finkelstein. His birthday was coming up, so I called up some of his closest friends, mentors, family, colleagues, his mayor, etc. and compiled a package of encouraging words and memories. I then put my own note of encouragement at the bottom. I put all of the notes in a cardboard box, wrapped that box with a Shopify article from the Globe and Mail, and dropped it off at Shopify HQ for his EA to collect. After he opened it, he emailed me back and the rest is history.” — Joel Hanson, Business Development Manager at Skidmore Group
- Play The Karma Long Game: “Do something kind, invite them to an event, sit on panels or share some “thought leadership.” Over time, it’s like positive karma. It comes back to you, and often when you least expect it. When the connection is finally made, “trust” is often already built because of the micro-hacks you invested in months or even a year ago. Networking isn’t just about a bold move to get a business card or an initial meeting.” — Rocky Ozaki, Cofounder of NoW of Work
- Don’t Be “That Guy”: “I’ve seen time and time again people running around a networking event trying to meet everyone in the room. All that does is make you look anxious and lack credibility. Have eye-to-eye conversations with just a few people, listen to what they have to say and they will most likely introduce you to people you would like to meet. Quality over quantity!” — Jean Pierre Cartier, Consultant at ARETE Safety and Protection
- Have A Social Stance: “I find that on burning issues like poverty, development, entrepreneurship, education, gender inequality … one must see beyond the myopic and understand the big picture. Because I connect and engage with respect, I get the same value in return and sometimes more.” — Christian Clement-Ezepue, Founder of CopTechNG
- Tap Your Mentors’ Networks: “I have selected two significant people to be ‘formal’ career mentors. Both of these people are extremely successful in their areas, and have built broad and respected networks. They don’t need to be Richard Bransons or Bill Gates. But they do need to be at least two career levels above.” Jodi G., Technology Learning Area Leader at Tatachilla Lutheran College
- Keep In Touch With Old Colleagues: “The best networking to get where you are going starts with where you have been. Keeping in touch with former colleagues, clients, and friends — and connecting them to helpful new people — always comes back tenfold if you treat people right and have a solid track record and reputation.” Renee Bigelow, VP of Marketing at Align
- Ask For A Warm Intro, Duh: “Find five of your friends who are connected to people you want to meet and ask them to intro you. Send your friends two-three sentences they can use for the intro to make it easy for them.” James T., Founder and CEO of vidThat.com
Got your own networking hack? Feel free to share in the comments or on social media to keep the conversation going.