I’ve always loved meeting new people. When I was a child I walked around the play area at my kindergarten school and offered up whatever toy I had in my hand to other kids to get them to share and play with me. It’s been thirty years of meeting new people since those days back in kindergarten, and I can honestly trace all of the internships and jobs I’ve ever had directly back to a specific person in my network. I actually share the story of those connections during a talk I give annually to my old high school, “Shaking Hands: How I Networked My Way To A Career I Love”.
I also love using systems and processes to help make my work and life more productive. Over the years I have evolved the way I network to make it as efficient and fun as possible. A friend recently asked me how many new people I met last month, and I think I startled him when I said very quickly and specifically “one-hundred and forty-two”. Yes, I track how many new people I meet each month, thanks to a few tags in LinkedIn and, of course, a process.
Here’s the thing, though: you don’t have to be an extreme social extrovert to grow and benefit from a great network. I believe with a little process, a few funny nametags and a touch confidence, anyone can grow a great network.
I believe there are three parts to building and nurturing a great network:
- Set goals.
- Make a plan, get prepared.
- Be diligent, follow-up.
- Set Goals
What are you networking for? Having crisp goals maximizes the time and effort you spend growing your network. It’s okay to have multiple goals, but don’t have too many or you will lose focus. These goals will then help you plan out the content, people and events you need to be most effective. My current networking goals are:
- Hire a new Product Manager at ThinkingPhones.
- Find new business partners for a specific product at ThinkingPhones.
- Find new business partners for Perspyre.
- Grow my network in the NYC startup community.
For each of my goals, I write down a two-sentence opener that I can use when talking to someone about them. For my goal of hiring a new PM at ThinkingPhones, I use:
“I’m looking to hire a PM with five or more years of experience to join our NYC team and focus on building our new UC and big data clients. I’d ideally like them to have experience building mobile apps and working with remote teams.”
Now whenever I bump into someone at an event I have these quickly queued up in my head and ready to go.
- Make A Plan, Get Prepared
Once I’ve set my goals for the quarter, I then create an action plan to actually get me in front of the people that I need to meet. I have been using this plan for my “Grow my network in the NYC startup community” goal:
- Attend two to threeMeetups each month.
- Connect with five new people at any Meetup or event I go to.
- Have coffee with one new person from the NYC startup community each week.
As part of my early morning routine, I check the Meetups each day to see if there are any interesting events to go to. There’s also a decent amount of sponsored parties by larger tech companies that serve as great networking events, like the recent customer party that Mixpanel held in Tribeca. There are lots of articles and tips on how to network effectively at these types of events, and one of my personal favorites is to put a second nametag on (when they let you write your own on those “Hi, my name is” ones). I put the second one underneath the first and usually write “Ask me about PM jobs” or “I like bacon”, as they usually elicit a more direct opening and give the other person a reason to come over.
Number one and number two are really in service of number three, helping me get those individual “purple” meetings setup. I prepare for an individual networking meeting (usually at coffee at Ground Support Cafe, love those almond milk lattes) by thinking about the following and writing them down in LinkedIn on that person’s profile (in the Notes tab):
- What’s an interesting news event, blog, or other fact that’s relevant to that person?
- What do I hope to get from this person?
- What can I offer them in return?
- Is there anyone I know who would make sense to introduce to this person?
- Be Diligent, Follow-up
I’ve gone through all of this trouble to find, setup and prepare for these great conversations with new and interesting people – but what’s the point of doing it if you don’t follow-up? I believe that following-up is one of the most crucial parts of any effective networking strategy, and it takes dedication and a system to do so well. I use LinkedIn as my personal CRM system, so after every networking meeting I write down the following either immediately (if possible) or that evening into that person’s LinkedIn profile:
- Where we met
- What we talked about
- What I said I would give/send/share with them
- What they said they would give/send/share with me
- If and when we’re meeting up next (set a reminder)
- Tag them with the month I met them
After I write all that down I then send them an email following up and thanking them. Boomerang lets me schedule that message to return later.
Lastly, in order not to let my new contacts go cold, I spend time every Monday morning reviewing the connections I made that month and looking for opportunities to help them. This could be an introduction to a colleague or friend, sharing a cool article that’s relevant to them, or asking how an event went that they told me was coming up. Sometimes I don’t have anything to share with a particular connection and that’s okay – I try to be as genuine as possible and only reach out when I think it’s worth it. If you use the Reminders feature in LinkedIn, this is super easy since you’ll get an email each morning with a summary of your tasks.
This is just what works for me. The methods and tools that I use in service of my networking goals are just that: methods and tools. Effective networking is really about the goals. If you have good goals, you can use any smattering of tools from my list or others to help accomplish them.
Image credit: CC by Tech Cocktail