In my early attempts to penetrate the London startup scene, the strategy of meeting 2 new people a week has been far and away the most valuable in terms of generating results. I’ve expanded my network from entrepreneurs to authors, and I’ve taken opportunities that would have otherwise remained hidden.
Building a network from scratch is a daunting prospect, especially if you’re fresh out of university or looking to make progress in an entirely new industry. But with every blank slate is unlimited opportunity, and building your network can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience if it’s done well. It also happens to be the way that 80% of startup jobs are found, so it’s worth getting right!
Over the past 12 months I’ve picked up some ideas and tips that will help you take your networking game to explosive heights, and make sure that you’re always making the most of every connection.
Here are six of the most crucial.
Heed The 15 Minute Rule
It is a truth universally acknowledged in the startup world that people are always busy. This is especially true of founders and CEOs, but applies to pretty much anyone. However, it’s also a truth universally acknowledged that people generally have time for a chat with an enthusiastic stranger who has made the effort to reach out and make a connection.
The trick to balancing these two truths is to plan your conversations as if they were only going to last 15 minutes. This forces you to focus on what’s most important. What do you really want to know? What are the key questions you want to ask? What do you want learn? If you can nail a conversation in 15 minutes complete with intros, questions and next steps, you’ll have mastered a crucial skill. You’ll need to do your research, but it will show.
Be A Value Creator
Most people are value extractors. A value extractor enters a new relationship asking what they can get out of it, with their hands out hoping and expecting to be helped. Where a value extractor would ask What can you do for me? a value creator asks What can I do for you?
Adam Grant’s book Give and Take is an indispensable networking education for anybody, and makes a compelling argument for why the most successful networkers are those who understand that it’s by adding value without the expectation of a return that causes great things to happen.
The easiest way to be a value creator is to always have something concrete to offer. Your offer should be something that can instantly add value to the person you’re talking to. My offer was, and still is, to interview them and create content (a blog post, a podcast or both) that can be shared with their audience. I’ve recommended this strategy over and over again, and it’s an amazing way of making the most of every connection.
If you have your own blog this is always worth mentioning to people, and if you don’t maybe it’s a good time to start one and begin documenting your conversations. Blogs are wonderful ways of demonstrating an active engagement with a subject that you care about, and gives you a strong platform from which to reach out to new connections.
REMEMBER: You don’t have to be Tim Ferriss or James Altucher to have a podcast. It doesn’t need to rank on iTunes, and your blog doesn’t need to be hitting a million visits a month for it be of great use to you. Check out Jonny Thomson’s blog and podcast The Social Enterprise Revolution for an example of a simple personal website in its earliest stage. Jonny may not be Tim Ferriss, but his blog landed him his dream job in a matter of weeks. Yes, weeks. We’ll be hearing more from Jonny in the near future…
Craft Your Story
Who are you, what do you do, and why do you do it? What compelled you to reach out to this person in the first place? What’s the story, bro?
What’s the story, bro, indeed.
You’ll always be asked about yourself, so it’s a good idea to have a clear answer that you can recount thoughtfully and eloquently. This doesn’t mean rehearsing a script, but the ability to tell your life story in a way that engages the listener in under 2 minutes will rapidly become your most valuable networking asset. You’ll probably find that your story changes every time you tell it – this is a good thing! Keep refining it until you feel confident that you’re explaining yourself in a concise, engaging and authentic way.
As I become increasingly confident at meeting new people I’m able to continuously refine what it is about me that I want people to know and express myself authentically. This kind of authentic self-expression is one of the many majesties of the self-directed career, and it’s worth taking the time to craft your personal story in a way that will engage and resonate with people.
Most people fall at this first hurdle because they believe that nobody could possibly take them seriously. You don’t need permission to follow your curiosities and reach out to people that intrigue you, but just in case you do, here it is: people want to talk to new and interesting people about what they do and why they do it. What’s the fastest way to be interesting? Be interested. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can build entire careers too.
Even when the meeting is arranged and the coffees have been bought, it’s good practice to enter every new relationship with maximum optimism and minimum expectation. That means being excited at the prospect of creating value for somebody you admire, but not expecting or assuming that the conversation will always end up with a job offer on the table. Expectation is a thin line away from entitlement, and in startup land success is always earned through hard work, not divine right.
Don’t let a hot lead go cold! It’s always good practice to follow up a conversation with a note of thanks, either by email or social media. If your new contact has Twitter it’s often a good idea to thank them publicly for their time, as other people will see it and will likely increase the size of your following.
In many ways maintaining a relationship after an initial meeting is more difficult than initiating the meeting in the first place. As a value creator hopefully you will have a reason to remain in contact, but be sure not to drop off the face of the Earth!
Talent Rocket Blast Off
3… Choose 3 people that you would love to meet and make a list of 5 questions that you would like to ask. These questions will provide the skeleton for your meetings and conversations.
2… Come up with your offer. Are you interested in creating blog content and could offer to interview your new connections for their website and social media? Do you have a favourite event that you could offer to take them to? Are you a talented illustrator or proficient enough in graphic design to offer to spruce up their website or add something new?
1… Make contact! Fire off an email or Tweet to your three chosen people and get the ball rolling today!