After ten years of being an entrepreneur, I’ve learned a thing or two about networking. One of the most important things I learned is that networking is a lifestyle. It needs to be worked into your DNA so that you are networking at all times, effortlessly and happily.
When you treat networking as a lifestyle, you don’t get anxious when you see a stranger at a conference, when the phone rings or when you’re waiting in a long line.
What you see and feel is opportunity. So, let me share with you ten networking secrets that will show you how to take those opportunities and turn them into profitable relationships.
Secret #1: Assume the burden of other people’s discomfort
Do you ever go to an event or a conference and just look around the room? What do you see? While you probably see lots of people talking to each other, you will also probably see several people sitting at tables looking through the event guide or talking on their phones. These people are probably nervous about talking to new people, so they are avoiding it by looking busy.
Well, you can help these people by introducing yourself. See, they probably want to approach total strangers, but they just find it hard to break the ice. You can come along and make life a little easier for them, which could lead to some interesting opportunities.
Secret #2: Give and expect nothing in return
If you ask successful networkers how they spend their time, they’ll tell you that they spend their time helping other people.
They’ll spend their time visiting young people in school, at colleges, over lunch and at startups. These networkers want to help people by sharing advice and helping them to avoid the mistakes they have made.
If you want to be a successful networker, you need to have conversations with people all the time, keeping in mind that these people may not be able to repay you…and that is okay.
Secret #3: Be proud of who you are
Don’t have an MBA or a PhD? No big deal. Don’t try to hide from your past or your background because sometimes all you need in this world is some serious hustle to succeed.
This is why I like to share stories of people like Alex Mangini, Doina Oncel and Juan Chapparo - entrepreneurs I met at conferences. They talk openly and eagerly about where they came from and where they are going. Their stories are a great way to connect with people.
I like to be really open about who I am and where I came from, even when meeting people for the first time. This way if I never meet them again, they will still feel like they know me.
Secret #4: Compliment early and often
In the hyper-competitive world of startups and tech businesses, it is really easy to get discouraged or bitter when you see someone else succeed. Resist that temptation and use that success as an opportunity to introduce yourself.
When I hear about someone who gets a good break, I try to meet that person and compliment him/her on his/her success. We may even have competing businesses, but I don’t care! Networking successfully means being above those petty feelings we have. It’s all about encouraging people.
See, you never know what kind of partnership or opportunity could unfold from meeting someone…and that’s the name of the game.
Secret #5: Look for common ground immediately
Before I head out to a networking event or get on the phone with a client, I like to do some research on the people I want to talk with. My goal is to guide the conversation to places of common interest so we never get to that awkward moment of silence.
I like to leave each conversation having made some kind of a personal connection, which usually happens with finding common interests.
This could be as simple as having a mutual friend, or it could be that you both like the same sport or outdoor activity.
Spend time learning about the people you want to talk to so you can get some insight on their interests. This will help you make that personal connection.
Secret #6: Tap your sphere of influence cautiously
As you have these conversations and make these connections, learn to treat personal contact information you get from people like gold.
What do I mean by that?
Don’t start bombarding them with email the moment you get back to your office, and don’t call them once a week to”chit-chat”. Most of these people are very busy. The last thing they want to do is to have their time wasted, and they will notice when you waste it.
Instead, only contact them when it is absolutely necessary and you know you can offer them an extraordinary benefit for talking to you. If you can appeal to their self-interest, they will most certainly love to talk to you.
Secret #7: Do not keep your personal and professional lives separate
If you are truly authentic in both your professional and personal lives, then you don’t have to shift to different personalities when you are in the office, at home or at an event.
That drains energy and is very stressful. If you are honest, authentic, kind and helpful across the board, then you will easily make connections with other people.
It’s really all about a mindset that says you are going to help people in any situation you can. That’s one of the reasons I like to meet people everywhere I go because if someone asks me for help and I can’t help them, I want to be able to connect that person with someone who can.
This is why I do searches on LinkedIn and connect with people with different skill sets from mine. Or I try to attend conferences or events that aren’t focused on my industry.
Secret #8: Pull, never push
Networking is all about conversation. It is also about finding out more about the other person than telling them about you or your company.
Napoleon Hill tells a story about how he went to a dinner party, and afterwards the hostess thought he was the most charming man in the world.
Not because he talked about himself, but because he kept the conversation focused on the hostess by asking her questions.
You have to earn the right to be heard about what you do and what you want to accomplish. People really don’t care about what you do until they know that you care about what they do.
So, don’t push a conversation. Instead, gently pull on it by asking people about themselves.
Secret #9: Include social media into your networking
If you are treating networking as a lifestyle, then social media will fall pretty easily into your strategy. Just think of it as another method of communication with the community.
If you are in an industry related to male-dominated technology, then you may want to join Google Plus. If you are in the field like photography or fashion, then you may want to join Pinterest.
Learn how to integrate these social media activities into your life effortlessly. When meeting people, ask if they are on Facebook or Twitter and connect with them on those social platforms.
Secret #10: Lose control of your marketing
Fifty years ago, you would hear most advertisers and marketers saying that you had to maintain control of the conversation…that you had to control your marketing.
Well, with social media and the Internet, things have changed dramatically. Today, it is all about exchanging great content freely for the attention of readers and prospects.
Consumers used to have to sit in the backseat and take what companies fed them. Now it’s the other way around, and costumers who don’t like what they are getting will revolt.
Just look at what happened to Netflix.
So, what does this have to do with networking? The idea is to hold nothing, except for proprietary trade secrets, close to the vest. Give it all away in conversation, on social media and when helping others, and let the world spread the message about what you can do.
I love people, I love meeting people, and I love helping people. I really think that more than anything else, those things are responsible for the success I have today. If I hadn’t gotten out there to network at such a young age, I would not have had the opportunities I have today.
And just so you know, I struggled at first getting out of my comfort zone to talk to strangers, just like you probably do now. But once you start meeting people, it will start to get easier and easier.
What other secrets do you have for making networking fun, easy and effective?