You know you should network but there are so many questions that serve as barriers that keep us locked in our easy chair. Networking is part art–part science and adding this to your current skill set will pay dividends for years to come. But how do you get started and more importantly how can you make this an effective tool in your personal tool set?
Five years ago, I started The Startup Factory in RTP, NC (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) with a network of maybe 3 or 4 people. I had moved here from Chicago a few years before but had been running two different companies during that time, so I was heads down on those burning daily company tasks. Sound familiar?
Early in my TSF journey I realized that my gold was going to be my database/spreadsheet/rolodex of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and anyone that was playing in the early-stage startup space.
I needed to know everyone that was even remotely important in the area.
I needed to network and network effectively.
I was 50 years old and to some, too old to learn new tricks. But I had a secret weapon. A few years back in Chicago, while I was running an 8 person staff of virtual employees, I had bunked up at a downtown office space operated by two friends who had a tier A outplacement service for the top executives in the area. We’re talking CEO’s of billion-dollar, public companies.
Sitting in their office space enabled me to learn how to network. They taught me these four simple tricks to networking that armed me just a few years later. In the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010, I met or networked face-to-face with over 250 people. Today, I have easily connected with over 4,000 people and am now that Malcolm Gladwell connector we all read about.
Lesson One. Get a warm introduction from someone. Warm introductions carry weight. Cold emails or calls are frequently discarded. All you need is a handful of friends to start with. Jason Caplain was the first person I reached out to and he introduced me to at least 20 people (3 at a time) over those first months.
Lesson Two. Tell a good story. We all have a story and I promise you that yours is as relevant and interesting as anyone else’s. Your challenge is to tell a good short story not tell your whole story. Keep it short and to the point. Bonus points if your story is in sync with what you need.
Lesson Three. Ask for 3 new intros via email. I call this the spider web. Each of the three new intros will quickly cascade out to a large network of people as each of those three intro you to another three. Why will they want to do this for you? Simple. You told a good story with a simple ask, “who else should I meet with that might be interested in my goal?”
Lesson Four. Ask what you can do for them. Knowing you have this in your pocket should give you confidence to make your ask in Lesson Three. Do some homework beforehand so you can elaborate if necessary. For example, I would ask Jason if he knew certain new startup founders I had recently come across. His day job is to know as many new companies as possible. My new network could serve him. Ask this question with sincerity and be ready to give your new contact something of value.
As a Malcolm Gladwell connector, I continue to pay-it-forward with introductions when the value exchange makes sense. In fact I spend about 30-45 minutes a day doing this for my portfolio companies, professional friends and newly networked acquaintances.
There are so many reasons why you should make this an integral part of your professional life. I can share that my network is my gold and that I have enjoyed just about every connection I have made.