I recently met up with some young people who were moving to new cities. They didn't really know anybody in those cities and wanted to know how they could get ahead in networking. I felt for them. Before turning 22, I had lived in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charleston, SC., Washington, D.C., and Palm Beach County, FL. I had also moved to each of those places (except Pittsburgh) without really knowing anybody there. If I went to any of them today, I could call up any number of people to do introductions, meet me for coffee, or help me find other people to meet.
After I told these young people my Silver Rule of Networking, "don't go to networking events," I broke down how they could build a better network of influencers and important people in a few weeks than most people build in years. In fact, in 3 short weeks, they can have strong working relationships with 15 important, busy people.
Slayback's Silver Rule of Networking: Don't Go to Networking Events
My Golden Rule of Networking is to understand and offer value to people with high opportunity cost (people whose time is really, really valuable). My Silver Rule is to not go to networking events.
Networking events are, by their nature, full of people with low opportunity cost. They're usually either people just starting out hoping to find important and busy connections or they are salespeople.
Salespeople selling to salespeople selling to salespeople.
Very Busy People are too busy to go to networking events. They have businesses to run, books to write, and products to develop. They don't have time to go to networking events. The few events they go to are either primarily leisurely or primarily business/signaling.
In my years of building up a world-class network, I've gone to maybe 3 networking events and have walked away with less value than my time was worth for each one.
"Does that mean you shouldn't go to events at all?"
No - you shouldn't go to events whose primary stated function is networking. You can meet interesting and busy people at plenty of events, but those events tend to have another primary stated function. Charity functions, public lectures, and club outings are good places to meet Very Busy People. Networking events are not.
Networking The Wrong Way
Most people treat networking the wrong way. They do it either too passively -- waiting for the opportunity to just bump into the right person at a networking event -- or they do it too actively -- only doing it when they have to do sales or fundraising.
They also rarely take advantage of the networking element of networking. They just try to meet as many people as possible and try to go for the highest-ranking or most important people they can meet. This gets the logic of networking entirely backwards. When you meet one person, once you gain sufficient rapport and social capital with them, you can gain access to their entire network. It might be better to get to know the friend of the successful CEO instead of trying to kill yourself to access the CEO himself.
This is the equivalent of starting your startup and immediately going for the biggest potential client in your space. If you somehow land the client, that can be great for your business, but you also end up spending time, money, and energy trying to land a complex sale that you could otherwise be spending picking up smaller clients that will eventually lead to that client.
Networking The Right Way
The right way to network is to be intentional about it. You don't network for the sake of networking. You meet people to connect to them and their resources (and for you to solve problems for them).
My fellow Pittsburgher Larry Gioia puts it well:
It's not about who you know. It's about who you know who knows who you need to know.
The right way to approach building a network is to signal your competence (and hunger, especially as a young person) towards people who know the people you need to know.
If you do this well, you can easily grow your network to 15 people who can connect you to opportunities, resources, and work in less than three weeks.
1. Find & Connect with Super-Connector
A Super-Connector is somebody in a community who knows a lot of other people in that community and facilitates introductions. They are not necessarily the most powerful person in that community and they may actually be quite young. They are people who know a lot of people and who do introductions (and have others doing introductions for them) all the time.
Super-connectors are actually pretty easy to find. They're often:
- Podcast hosts
- Local bloggers
- Early stage entrepreneurs
- Event hosts
- Regular podcast guests
My favorite group of Super-Connectors are podcast hosts. My friends Aaron Watson, Nat Eliason, and Scot MacTaggart all immediately come to mind as well-connected podcast hosts. You don't need to shoot to meet Tim Ferriss. You just need to meet somebody who knows a lot of interesting people who also know interesting people.
The easiest way to connect with a Super-Connector is to send them a cold email, facebook message, or Instagram message. They get pitched on people wanting something from them all the time, so reach out with a sincere message about how you want to connect with them and learn more about what they do.
For example, if you reach out to a podcast host, here's a script you can use:
My name is [your name] and I'm a new listener of your's. I came across your podcast [how you came across it]. I wanted to tell you I really enjoyed [specific episode]. I especially enjoyed [specific part or reason why you enjoyed it].
I saw you're based in [where you are]. I actually just moved here and am looking to learn more about the community -- and about how you got into podcasting.
Would you be open for coffee later this week or early next week? I can meet at a location you prefer.
If they don't reply, follow up within 48 hours. Young people in particular seem to think that if somebody doesn't immediately reply to your email, they must hate you. No. They were probably just busy. Make it easy for them to reply and remind them to follow up.
If they say they're too busy, respect their time and ask them for one-to-two people you should contact who might be better bets.
Your goal here is not to meet the mayor of your city. It's to get to know somebody who knows other people. If the first person you contacted doesn't pan out, that's okay. You can contact others.
2. Sincerely Get to Know Them
When you get your first person locked in to meet with you, don't go smelling the blood of all the introductions you can get. Sincerely get to know the person. Ask them questions they aren't used to hearing. If they have interviews or podcasts or articles about their background, read those first so that you don't end up asking them questions that it would take 5 minutes on Google to figure out.
Most people do the things they do -- write, podcast, run a company, invest -- for a reason and because they enjoy it. Really dig into what they enjoy about it and let them talk about themselves. Ask them questions that people don't ask them but that they wish people asked them. For example, small business owners may not run the most interesting companies in the world -- a floral shop, a construction company, an auto dealership -- but they wish people asked them why they got into that space.
People feel better about conversations when they spend most of those conversations talking about themselves. Come prepared and ask questions. Your sincere interest should leave an impression.
When eventually asked to talk about yourself, don't hide the fact that you might be young and inexperienced. When I first got started doing meetings with Very Busy People at ages 18 and 19, the fact that I was so (relatively) young helped me more than it hurt me. People wanted to help an ambitious young person and employers and investors wanted to know him. Good help is hard to find and if you signal that you can be good help, people want to keep you around.
Leave a positive impression by being sincere, honest, and excited. Be sincere, honest, and excited by doing your research beforehand.
3. Ask Whom You Should Know
The entire purpose of your meeting is to learn more about the community you moved to and find out whom you should know. Don't hide that fact. After learning more about the other person and giving them an idea of who you are, ask them who the people are that you should know. Don't just ask for the most important or well-connected people in town. If you work in video production, knowing the CEO of the biggest company in town might help you less than knowing a handful of video producers with established networks.
An easy way to phrase this question is this:
Based on what you know about me now, who are some of the people that you think it would make sense for me to know?
Physically write down these names. You don't have to take notes the whole meeting but you should write down these names. You won't remember them if you don't and if you think, "pfft, I'll remember them and if I don't, I'll just follow up asking them again," then you're deluding yourself. You don't want to waste an ask in a follow up on something the person already told you.
And at least offer to pick up the check when it comes. Most people won't make you pay for it but the gesture will leave a good impression.
4. Follow Up and Ask For 1-2 Introductions
Always, always, always, always, always, always follow up.
I was at two events this past weekend where I met a number of young people. Both events went well and I was impressed by the young people I met. But the young people at only one of the events sent follow up emails. And guess what? I now have a better impression of them and the entire event than I do of the other young people I met.
A follow up email doesn't have to be complex. It's your opportunity to leave another good impression and put yourself back in that person's mind. My general rule is to follow up within 48 hours.
In your follow up, ask for two introductions. If you know who you want the introductions to, ask for those. If not, you can make a generic ask. My friend Danielle Strachman has a good post here on how to ask for introductions.
Here's an example of how you can write a follow up:
It was great meeting today! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to let me know more about what you're building and point me in the right direction. I loved learning more about your story starting 1517 Fund -- especially given how different it is from most VC stories.
You gave a ton of great pointers of people I should meet in SF. Would you be able to introduce me to Michael Strong and one more person in the education space?
Like I said, education is really my bread and butter. I wrote my first book on the subject and worked for two ed-tech startups before moving out to the Bay Area last year. I'm now interested in learning more about what's going on at the K-12 level and the work that Michael has done is definitely something I want to learn more about.
Again, I appreciate your time -- thanks for meeting!
This email is easy to forward, has a clear ask, gives some background, is respectful of the other person's time, and isn't petulant and demanding.
If you do something like this with every person you meet, every new introduction converts into 2-3 new connections quickly.
5. Repeat 2-4
Repeat these steps with every person you meet for a few weeks. Too many people meet one or two people and then stop asking for introductions. Then, they're shocked when they don't have a network of people in a new community and throw up their arms, declaring, "well, I guess I just can't meet people."
No. Wrong. You actually have to work at meeting new people, especially busy and important people.
If you work on being conscientious, interested, and sincere with the people you meet, that work shouldn't be difficult.
What if Nobody Replies to My Outreach?
This entire process hinges on you being able to meet at least one person who can do introductions for you. If you can't get one of those people to reply to your outreach, it's usually because of at least one reason.
Your email is hard to understand.
If your email is hard to understand - if you ramble, tell your life story, or just generally write in an unclear fashion - you're less likely to get a reply. The person you're emailing is busy. When they get a new email, they want to know, "what do you want?" and "how can I reply?" Be vicious with removing superfluous text and information. You should be able to see most of the message on a single screen or two on an iPhone. Read my piece on sending emails to Very Busy People to get a better grasp of the psychology of emails.
Your email is hard to reply to.
Maybe your email is clear about what you want - to meet and learn more about the community - but it isn't easy to reply to. Try to remove open ended questions like, "let me know," or "I'd love to pick your brain." Phrase your call to action in your email as a yes or no question.
You're not doing enough outreach.
The reality is that not everybody has the time or interest to meet with you, no matter how many emails you send. Don't hinge your entire effort on one person being interested in working with you. I recommend starting with a list of 3-5 people you can reach out to.
You've clearly not done your research.
The only thing worse than getting a poorly written email request is getting one that shows the sender clearly did no research. BS sincerity is an example of this. Read up on the person and make sure you're not making simple mistakes like spelling their name wrong, referencing the wrong college or city, and not knowing who they interviewed (in the case of podcasters).
What if Connections Refuse to Do Introductions?
People refuse to do introductions for two reasons: they don't know you well enough or they don't know the connection well enough. I have longtime friends I wouldn't introduce to some VIPs in my network. Since you'll have just met these people, chances are they don't know you well enough to introduce you to their valuable connections. That's okay - as you get to know them better, they'll open up to introducing you to more valuable people. If somebody refuses to make an introduction for you, don't get upset. Let them know it's okay, you understand, and that you'd like for them to point you towards the right people.
Here's a script you can use to reply to a connection who let you know they can't make an introduction.
Completely understood - we just met. Thanks for being clear.
In the meantime, who are two people I should reach out to on my own, in that case?
What if I Don't Have an Interesting Background?
You don't have to have an interesting background or a lot of experience to get valuable introductions. In fact, being young with nothing to offer besides being hungry, interested, and sincere can work in your benefit. I've done introductions for 17 year olds and 18 year olds solely on the grounds that I know that they will have achieved more by 23 than most people do by 30. If you're not quite that young but still making the transition, most people respect an earnest effort to get to know people who share their interests and work. Don't try to hide your effort behind sales or "professional-sounding" reasons.
What if I Don't Have a Specific Ask?
If you don't have a specific ask for meeting somebody, that's okay - just be honest and sincere that you want to meet to know them. If they're too busy to do a generic meeting, they'll tell you. You can then follow up in a few weeks when you have a specific ask or when they are less busy.
Do not hide that you don't have a specific ask by making it sound like you do have one. I've gone to coffee meetings that I thought were going to be somebody asking for specific help on fundraising, sales, or something related to my work. After 30 minutes and no ask, I realize it's just a "catch up" meeting and I feel like I've had my time stolen. That was a meeting I would have rather done via email. Now, I take requests to meet less seriously from that person because he has signaled that he might waste my time.
The inverse is also true. Don't make a meeting look like a "get to know you" meeting and then drop a pitch halfway through. This is a classic trick of salespeople and one of the reasons why people don't like salespeople. If you want to pitch somebody on something, just tell them that you want to tell them more about the product or service. If they're not in the market, they'll tell you and save your time and their time.
What questions do you have about building a network when you move to a new city? Tweet them at me @zslayback and I'll update this post and answer your questions.
Last Updated June 13, 2018