Monday, February 8, 2010

Networking: The business of meeting people

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend and we started to talk about what networking was really about. People who are good at networking know a lot of people and are able to leverage those connections to get stuff done.

Networking is: Meeting people who have skills and experience that may or may not be valuable to you.

My opinions about networking:
  • Networking is only valuable when the people doing it have "raw" skills at things.
  • Networking should be in people's mutual interest.
  • Networking is about finding acquaintances, not friends.
  • Networking is about knowing the person's: name, line of business, skills, goals and ambitions, and contact information.
  • Knowing people never hurts if you know how to say no.
  • Always capitalize on the moments when you meet amazing people. Work to trade cards and follow up. Like dating, you find the best candidates when you aren't searching for them. You meet the best connections when you aren't even looking.
  • Always carry a few business cards in your wallet or purse. Its really not that hard. If you can't manage to carry your own business cards, how do you expect to be able to run a business?
  • Be happy. I don't care if your day sucked balls. Put a smile on your face. People like happy people. Save your emotional dump for your close friends.
  • Only present one face to a person when meeting them. Even if you work on multiple projects, just pitch them one of the things you do when you meet. Its hard enough to remember a person's name and their one project, much less 2 or more projects. You will just confuse them.
  • Give them the 30 second pitch of what you do. Save the 60-90 second pitch if they ask you further questions. If you can't say what you do in 30 seconds don't go to a networking event. Spend the rest of night by yourself and figure out what your business is doing or what you want.
  • Spend an absolute maximum of 5 minutes with a person. You should be able to conduct your business pitch, and exchange contacts in 3 minutes easily. If you have a lot to talk about, follow up with a meeting. If you normally have a problem talking to long practice saying really short points.
  • Most people who are networking don't have an attention span much longer then a few minutes.
  • You can never go wrong with asking a question or two to better understand what another person does.
  • Try really hard not to lie. It's very easy in the heat of the moment when meeting someone powerful or important to say little white lies that make you look better. Try to hold your tongue and laugh a bit and then tell them the truth. You will look a lot better then trying to patch together the story when they dig a bit.
  • Try to meet and get to know "connectors" really well. Connectors are rare individuals who seem to know everyone. They are a lot more valuable to know than "non connectors" because you can ask them who they know. Treat connectors very well, you will find them indispensable and very rare. When you meet one, actively try to maintain the relationship. They will appreciate it. They know 1000's of people and they can't obviously maintain all of those relationships. So if you reach out, you will be unique. Don't worry about being too persistent with connectors, they will send pretty obvious social cues if they are not interested in what you have to say. Most connectors are very socialable and personable.
  • You can't be doing "real" work at the same time as networking. You have to balance it. There are times in your career when you really shouldn't be networking at all (like crunch time). But most of the time you should maintain a healthy balance.
  • Not all people are created equal. Knowing a few amazing people is infinitely more important then knowing 100 of not so amazing people. At one event you may find yourself spending 35 min just waiting to talk to one person. It very well may be worth it.
  • In the same token, some of the most valuable people to you may be the people who aren't talking to everyone else. Introduce yourself to the person who is just standing around with a drink or sitting at a table. I've been pleasantly surprised a few times.
After the networking event or when you meet a new person:
  • When you meet someone new always follow up. When you get someone's card or contact information always send them a follow up email saying "nice to meet you." This one 90% of new people don't do. This shows respect and value to the relationship. With some people you may want to arrange a meeting, but a majority of them you won't want to spend time on. Even so, still follow up with an email, its polite and important.
  • Very carefully pick the people that are worth your time to meet with.
  • If someone requests a meeting try to give everyone at least 1 free hour of your time. You can learn a lot in 1 hour. Write it off as education, try to make it interesting.
  • Have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, a system to track what people do, how you met them, and what their phone number and email are. This may sound creepy, but I have a pretty elaborate system put together to keep track of the people I meet. Why do I do it? Because in my career (and many other careers) who you know is extremely important. How lame would it be if I just misplaced someone's name or contact information in the time of need? I invest a lot of time and energy keeping track and keeping my personal contact records up to date.