Earlier in my career I used to attend a startup event to meet new people. I learned a lot during those years.
One evening I made it into a room with the Prime Minister of Australia. I got to ask her all sorts of whacky questions. Another night I got to hang out with the founder of a unicorn fintech.
Regulars who came along to that same weekly event began to see me as some networking butterfly that could make friends with everyone.
That wasn’t true.
The networking strategy you must adopt to be successful
The trouble with traditional networking is it feels desperate.
I’d meet people at these startup events who’d jam business cards in my face or take out product prototypes from their laptop bags. It was so cringe.
They only showed up to see what they could take home.
They’d bet the farm on their idea and then rely on a lucky-break-introduction to a successful person to make their dream a reality. I never saw these amateurs achieve their goals.
The best networkers I observed focused on doing interesting stuff in their lives or careers. This attracted interesting people to them.
At the time I was writing a lot online and having many quirky experiences.
I’d share these experiences with people I met and have no problem attracting other interesting people.
It was more about humble storytelling and less about trying to seem cool or connected. I’d share a story about flying to San Fran to meet a famous venture capitalist and almost pissing my pants.
Then having the guy not even show up for the meeting and walking the streets alone while Donald Duck political supporters yelled at me.
You can’t make up interesting stuff. It has to be lived.
Do work on the internet
Most people are ghosts.
They have heads full of stories and experiences. They’ve worked some crazy careers and met some whacky people. But you’d never know.
As soon as you google them nothing comes up. So you don’t bother to find out more about them, or you assume they have nothing interesting to say.
Great networkers are content creators.
They publish their thoughts and use them as a way to attract the right people into their life who can change their life.
Get a social media habit. You’ll never have to apply for a job again.
You don’t network to become valuable. You become valuable and then network
— JK Molina
Let great work do the talking for you
Great work is rare.
Most of the people you work with phone it home and do the bare minimum. To stand out and attract the right people all you’ve got to do is produce great work.
I did this in banking. I built a system when I was in the call center that allowed me to get more customers to refinance their home loans with us.
Then I sat next to the home loan team and funneled all the new clients directly to them. I then took those home loan bankers out for lunch and joined their Friday drinks.
No one else was doing this.
The bosses started noticing the results. They didn’t know the detail, though, so they’d ask me. They’d follow me around. Before I knew it, I’d become the blueprint for how they wanted all bankers to work.
It’s not that I was smart. I just worked differently to everyone else.
Now, before you think it, we’re all capable of doing great work. Often all it takes is going above and beyond the expectations. And, no, that doesn’t mean working stupidly long hours.
It just means daring to be different. Daring to try something new without asking for permission.
Don’t you ever forget that networking can get you into doors that a degree can not — Elon Musk
The ultimate network builder
Networking is easier when you don’t need anything in return.
At those startup events I went to, I already had a job and enough money to pay bills. There was zero desperation. I wasn’t trying to get anything and simply wanted to learn.
This approach means that you don’t come off as transactional. Trying to always get something out of every situation is what’s wrong with society and how business currently works.
A question to avoid asking someone for as long as possible
Whenever you’re at some social event it usually takes only 30 seconds before someone says, “what do you do for a living?”
I learned to stop asking this question. It’s so shallow. I used to get asked a lot about what I did for work and would often downplay it.
If I told them the truth about how I meet with the founders of big tech companies, they’d be asking me for non-stop favors.
Another time I found this question difficult was when I got fired from my job in 2019. I went to startup events to try and rebuild my confidence.
As soon as someone said “what do you do for a living” I found it hard to answer. I ended up lying.
When you hold off asking people what they do for work, you dig below the surface. You figure out what drives them and find commonalities you’d otherwise not have found.
These commonalities glue you to new people.
When I won a $12M deal at my last job people couldn’t believe it. The key decision-maker had gone from hating my employer to doing business with them again. What changed is I found out what they did outside of work.
It turned out they liked racing Porsches and investing in Bitcoin.
So instead of talking about boring work stuff, I just spoke about these two topics every time we met. When it came time to spend their company’s money it felt like being with family when they worked with me.
How people earn money is the least interesting thing. And being interesting is the key to networking.