If there was a skill I wish I had worked on earlier in my career, it would be networking, which I define as the act of connecting with other people, sharing stories, finding common interests, and developing long-term relationships.
I consider myself pretty average when it comes to networking, but I wanted to share some tactics and lessons I’ve picked up along the way and found to be helpful. I also figure that writing these down will help me tighten up my networking discipline. When it comes to business, friendships, and other areas of my life, it’s clear that the connections I’ve made with people along the way have impacted my outcomes in drastic ways. Knowing the right people can save time, save money, fortify emotions, and prevent all kinds of hardship.
In no particular order, here are networking tactics and lessons:
Networking is a Long-term Game
I like thinking about networking as something akin to long-term investing, where I’m working to build a large enough base of personal connections that, over time, accrue in value. Some call this “relationship capital” where you may have won a bunch of goodwill with numerous people over the years and can call in favors when necessary. The key is to see the network as something to keep on investing into with the belief that results will compound over time.
Have No Expectations
Similar to thinking of networking as a long-term game, I’ve found it useful to think of networking as an activity that, in the short-term, may have zero detectable benefit to myself. In fact, I like to think of networking as a good human activity, just participating in getting to know other humans without an aggressive personal agenda, at least not in the short-term. Those who play networking chess may approach the activity with greater strategy and think a few steps ahead, leveraging one connection to get to another and to gain some kind of foothold in a community over a period of years. I like to keep it simple and not have expectations for any immediate upside.
Express Curiosity with Questions
I tend to like initial conversations with new connections where the ratio of questions and answers by each party is equitable. I also like it when I’m able to ask a few more questions and to get the other person talking a bit more about themselves, especially about things they care deeply about. This I picked up from Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People (check out my Dale Carnegie blog post on some of my favorite principles from the book), where Carnegie writes that when people share things they enjoy or love with you, they’ll associate these good feelings with you and think more highly of you.
Hone Your Own Story
I think it’s incredibly helpful to have a rehearsed bit about yourself. I used to feel like this was too inauthentic and show-offy, but that was just my insecurity talking. People like clear and memorable communication and knowing who you are, what you do, and what matters to you can make it easier for others to help you. Depending on the situation, I’m usually able to quickly string together a few sentences that talks about my background, my interests, and my strengths.
Share Ideas Online
The Internet is a powerful place to network. One way is to share ideas by posting to social media or by publishing a blog post and newsletter. In my experience, honing in on niche topics that are near and dear to me has made it easier to write regularly and in turn has helped me to draw traffic to my website and to grow my newsletter list. I then share these on Twitter and LinkedIn, where it’s signaled to others that I care about X, Y, and Z topics, making me more approachable for those with common interests. Putting myself out there has made it easier to network because people are familiar with certain aspects of me, so they’re more likely to want to share common things about themselves when we connect.
For those interested, I gained a great deal from taking the Write of Passage course by David Perell a couple years ago. It inspired me to continue publishing at a regular clip and to consistently share my pieces.
Reply to People Who Took the Time to Reach Out to You
As a result of sharing things online, I sometimes get emails and DMs from different people. Sometimes these are well-wishers sending compliments about something I wrote. Other times, they’re people who have questions and want to talk. I try to respond to everyone, even if it’s a brief thank you note. I’ve had dozens of conversations with people as well and some have become friends. Networking doesn’t always have to be an outbound activity, it can be a good inbound one, too, but it requires some time and follow-through.
One exception to this: I don’t respond to canned and unsolicited sales messages. There are some clever ones too that, if the service or product is irrelevant, I will also ignore. The only time I respond to sales messages is if the timing is good and what they’ve reached out to sell is exactly what I was seeking in that moment. It’s rare, but it happens.
Participate in Communities
I’m part of a handful of private Slack and Discord communities. These are great places to connect with people. My participation record is pretty spotty, and I admit I usually hit these places up when I’m looking for specific help. However, in my better moments, I’ll browse some channels and see if I can offer anything of value, like a link to a resource or an intro to someone. I sometimes share links to my writing but only if it’s absolutely relevant to a particular channel.
Define Outreach Target By Thinking of What’s In It For Them
Sourcing interesting people to connect with has been an evolving art form for me. I used to take a sales-driven approach and hit up people who may become prospective Barrel clients with a very transactional “let’s talk about your website” message. These types of emails hardly got a response.
In recent years, I’ve taken to connecting with people who may benefit from connecting with our clients because of their complementary skills or because they may fulfill something we heard a client was looking for that’s completely unrelated to anything we do. This has been a great way to guarantee a response because it has a built-in answer to the question “what’s in it for me” that inevitably crosses the mind of anyone opening a message or email.
Two Contacts Every Week
My Barrel Partners and I require ourselves to make “2 Contacts” each week and share them. We’ve collectively hit up a few thousands people between us. This is a mix of outreach to strangers as well as hitting up former and existing clients. Two emails is easy enough to send each week. Doing this without fail for years adds up quickly.
Use Twitter to Find People
If you’re looking for people with a certain skillset but having a hard time getting names, find someone who is a “known quantity”–a super influencer with a ton of followers–in that field on Twitter and then look at who they’re following. This will typically reveal a treasure-trove of profiles, many who don’t have much of a following but are legit thought leaders in the space. Cross reference with LinkedIn and you can learn a lot.
Send a Reminder If You Don’t Get a Response
An underrated email is the follow-up to an email that hasn’t received a response. I typically wait a week if it’s nothing urgent and reply directly with a note like “checking in to see if you’ve had a chance to think about this” or “following up, wanted to see what you thought.” The reminder email often gets a quick response and is sometimes welcomed by folks who get high volume of emails and may miss some here and there.
Say Something Nice to Someone Who Inspired You
I sometimes come across blog posts, books, and podcasts that resonate deeply or inspire me to change my behavior or see things in new ways. I don’t always remember to do this, but looking up the authors or podcast guests on social media and sending them a note of gratitude is a kind gesture and something I ought to always do. Openly recommending them via social is also a good way to pay it forward. Sometimes, though I never expect it, the author/guest responds and it’s possible you can build a connection. I’ve gotten to know a few authors/thought leaders personally this way. No agenda, but just a cool bonus.
Remember People and Check In
Meeting a ton of people and expanding one’s rolodex is a start, but the true value comes from remembering the people you’ve met and moving beyond the initial touch to some kind of follow-up.
A simple tactic I use to remember people is to write down a few notes from our conversations into Notion. If it’s a Barrel-related contact, I’ll also add them to HubSpot. And if available, I’ll connect with them on LinkedIn and perhaps check out their Twitter profile to see if they’re active and what kind of tweets they publish.
Some people are really good at this and they check in with me before I do. With others, I might look at my list of conversations and go back to hit them up if it’s been a while. Sometimes I might share a relevant article or a simple “been a while – how’s it going?” message is good enough to re-establish contact.
Helping People Network with Others
Related to the above bit about remembering and checking in, the key to strengthening your network is to help others by introducing them to other people in your network. Always keeping this in mind is the key, I believe, to getting the “network effects” that can truly be beneficial to you and everyone involved in the long-run, the “win-win” dynamic that keeps on giving.
I feel fuzzy and warm when I think about the connections I’ve made for people that have resulted in new business, new career opportunities, romance, friendships, personal growth, and more. Likewise, I’ve been on the receiving end of some great introductions that have led to wonderful opportunities.
Know and Thank Your Super-Connector Friends
I have a few friends who are superstars when it comes to making great, relevant intros – the super connectors who seem to know everyone and then take the time to connect me with people whom they think would be great for me to know. I truly admire these folks for their energetic ability to selflessly expand the network of others at a prolific level. Having a handful of super-connector friends can be a real gift.
Follow Through on Your Promises
I hate being flaky but I admit things have fallen through the cracks every now and then. Try to avoid this as much as possible when you say to someone “Sure I can connect you with so and so” or “Cool, let’s hang out sometime” and actually do the thing you’ve promised to do. It’s a small, but an incredibly important step. If you keep failing on this, then don’t make promises until you’re in a place to do better.
Ask for Help
I wrote earlier about having no expectations, but perhaps this is why I have struggled with the aspect of networking that’s about asking for help. I’ve seen people be very effective at asking for help on a consistent basis and then getting all kinds of help from everywhere. Heck, I find myself wanting to help immediately when I see people reach out and ask. But there’s something that’s prevented me from doing the same, even in situations when I clearly would have gained a great deal and solved big problems.
The obvious answer is rooted in some kind of insecurity–the need to look self-reliant and in control, perhaps. I think deep down, I feel that asking so directly for help signals some kind of desperation or weakness, and it’s a kind of vulnerability that I’d rather avoid. This is something I need to work on–asking for help is a great way to connect more deeply with others and to provide an opportunity for other people to really shine.
Check out Packy McCormick’s excellent Not Boring essay “The Great Online Game”, which highlights the unlimited upside of participating in online communities and the ability to freely share ideas, get immediate feedback, develop relationships, amass followers, and find all kinds of new opportunities both in life and career.