Networking. Everyone does it — but how do you really win at it? Although Woody Allen was credited with saying that “showing up is 80 percent of life,” it’s that final 20 percent that really makes the difference. That is, it’s about how you show up.
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Whether it’s the overzealous networker who tries to give everyone his card but has no clear direction of what he’s doing, or the wallflower who doesn’t meet a single person even after showing up, so many people network incorrectly that it actually works against them. With that said, here are a few easy-to-use basics to help you win the networking game.
Meet People Through Other People
The best way to meet people is through referrals. Stick around people you already know who know the people you want to meet. By being introduced through them or joining their conversations, you’ll likely receive a warm introduction to the person you really want. You’ll see this same effect on LinkedIn through their online introduction tool, or through joining the right circle at an event with somebody you know.
It’s Not About You
Although you’re trying to meet a new partner, developer or customer, you’re not going to get ahead with that kind of attitude. This is because everybody else thinks the same way, which is why they’re at the event. It’s worthwhile to go against the grain instead. If you can’t connect for yourself, think about how you can make connections for others. Listen to what people’s needs are and try to make a connection for them, even if it doesn’t benefit you. They’ll remember you the next time around and reciprocate — that’s how you utilize the power of networking.
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Get Out of Your League
Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and hang out with people out of your league. I went to private executive events before I was even an executive, and when I was half the age of others in the room. No matter who you are, you can find a way to relate to people as long as you’re confident, carry yourself well and are not trying to sell yourself.
Spending time with people who are a step ahead will push you to become better, whether it’s through the advice they offer or the level at which they operate.
Don’t Sell, But Have a Good Elevator Pitch
The worst networkers try to sell or otherwise push their needs onto others. Whether it’s someone looking for a job or selling their services, they rub people the wrong way. People don’t like to be sold to — they like to buy. In order to get them to want to buy into whatever it is you’re doing, or be interested in helping you, a relatable story or connection is a must. Strike up a conversation; it will make building a connection much easier and they are more likely to trust you. Do you have a common friend? Did you work at the same company? Find common ground early in the conversation.
And when they ask you what you do, make sure you have a short-and-sweet pitch to summarize yourself. This is called an elevator pitch, and should be 30 seconds or less. I always try to make sure it’s simple and relatable to everybody, but it does change from time to time depending on the audience. If I can construct my elevator pitch to be more relatable to a specific person, I’ll pitch it that way.
Make Them Come to You
Why go to networking events hoping to meet people when you can make them all come to you? Try holding a niche networking event around your industry that will attract the type of people you’re trying to meet. Everyone will either know or want to meet the host — you — and you can influence who will actually show up. It beats going to some random event hoping you meet the right people. Not to mention that you’re likely to have a lot of acquaintances there already, allowing you to more easily meet people through them.
For example, if you’re trying to meet potential customers for your new app that serves restaurant business owners, build an event around the grand opening of a new restaurant. Sponsor the event and invite people from the industry, offering them complimentary food and wine tastings. Think, if I were this person, what would make me want to go to the event? Build your event around that compelling need.
So there you have it: a few basic rules you can follow to win at networking. Remember, the goal is about building relationships — the network — and a good network will pay major returns in the form of new customers, partners and opportunities. Get out there and meet people, but make sure you’re meeting people the right way. And don’t forget that in networking, it’s that last 20 percent of effort that really counts.
Andy Karuza is the founder at brandbuddee.com and Co-founder at SpotSurvey. He is a leader in the online and social media marketing community with experience launching startups and helping fortune 500 companies achieve online success through innovative strategies.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.