Your network is your net worth.
When people think about networking, they imagine themselves walking around a big event, trying their best to be extroverted. They think about shaking hands and exchanging business cards, with the hope that sometime in the not-so-distant future an unbelievable opportunity will fall right into their lap.
That's not real networking--and that's why I tend to have such an issue with attending "networking events."
The best networking I have ever done has been the result of genuine curiosity, and usually in environments most people would never use for networking. For example: I am very physically active and spend a lot of time at the gym down the street from where I live. Because I spend so much time there, and between the same hours almost every day, I see the same faces over and over again. Instead of always keeping my headphones on, I make an effort to get to know people--I mean we see each other there every day, walk past each other on the way to different machines, etc. Might as well know each other's names, right?
I can't tell you how many opportunities have come as the result of the friends I've made in the gym.
Because the truth is, people don't like "being networked." Nobody likes the idea of shaking hands with someone and there being this underlying expectation of, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." It just feels contrived.
Friends do business with friends.
Instead, I make an effort to become everyone's friend. I want to know where you grew up, what you like doing as a hobby, what your family is like, what your favorite food is. I want to know what your dreams are, what you hope to build or share with people here on earth--and then I want to see if there's anything I can do to help you.
If something comes back to me as a result of it, great.
If not, doesn't matter. We're friends.
Want to know the best networking hacks? That's the first one.
1. Make friends, not contacts.
Let's say you need an in at a big company and you know someone there. If that person is nothing more than a business card you picked up at a networking event, what are the chances he or she will actually end up being able to provide you the value you're looking for? Probably very slim. Maybe--you never know. But not super likely.
But if your contact is a friend, someone you speak with on a somewhat regular basis, someone with whom you've grabbed coffee and connected over a shared love for sci-fi movies, etc., the person will feel so much more compelled to help you.
Reason being: You're friends.
By no means is this a suggestion to go be one of those social climbers who pretends to make friends in the name of getting to the top. Honestly, I (and everyone else) could smell you from a mile away.
What I am proposing is that you genuinely open yourself up to other people and connect in an emotional way. Share your goals, share your aspirations, share your hopes and dreams and what challenges you're currently facing--and then let them do the same.
Which leads us to networking hack No. 2 ...
2. Listen--because not many people do it.
Want to know one of the best networking hacks in the world?
I know this because before I found myself in the world of entrepreneurship, I spent a considerable amount of time in the world of meditation--where all you do, and all anyone does, is listen. I was that kid you'd see in the park for two hours, knees crossed on the grass, trying to tune in to myself and uncover my deepest fears. Why? Because there is nothing more important in life than knowing yourself.
As I found myself in the high-energy, ambitious world of entrepreneurship, it is astounding how much people will divulge when you show them you are genuinely interested in and listening to what they're saying. People are so used to being met with the feeling of "I'm waiting for you to finish speaking so I can talk again" that when someone comes along who listens intently to every word they say, they just keep going and going and going--and, going back to No. 1, they see you as a friend. They trust you, and feel safe sharing with you who they are.
People with knowledge tend to hold back what they know under the presumption that you aren't really interested in what they have to say. But if you listen, genuinely listen, and show not only your interest but your appreciation, they will share. They will share everything they know, and then some. So not only is this a learning opportunity for you, but it becomes one of the fastest ways to make friends and build an incredible network.
They will respect you because you have the patience and maturity to actually listen.
3. Tell your story
I was just having coffee with a friend of mine, Zee Ali, the CEO of Zee Group, and he told me this incredible story:
He was recently at an event and met another CEO of a publicly traded company. He wanted its business. He walked up to her (the CEO) and pitched her, to which she immediately suggested he go online and fill out a formal vendor application. He said, "No. Let me tell you my story."
Forty-five seconds later, she said, "I will give you all of my business."
What did he do?
He told his story--about how he went from being a teenager with nothing to building a seven-figure marketing agency.
What did that story do? It showed a few things:
Tell your story. I can't tell you how many people I meet who have the most incredible zero-to-champion stories, and then I go to their website and it looks and sounds and acts like everyone else's in their space.
Tell your story--not the story you think everyone wants to hear. That's how you stand out, I promise.
4. Ask for an introduction
This is such an undervalued way of meeting new people. Everybody knows someone. If you want to meet someone in particular, ask the people you know if they know anyone who knows the person--and then ask them to make an introduction.
At the end of the day, a warm lead is always better than a cold lead. If you can get in the door with some sort of referral, even if it's, "This is a friend of a friend of a friend and I think you two should meet," that will always be better than a cold email or phone call.
That said, it's important that you not overask, and reciprocate whenever possible. For example: I know quite a few people who have very expansive networks. They have direct access to some very powerful people. At the same time, they know the value of their network and do not share it lightly.
If you want to take advantage of other people's networks, it's on you to build your own. You can't constantly ask for introductions if you don't have something of equal value to share. That's your job. Build your own network so that when you ask for an introduction, the person you're asking feels comfortable doing so because she:
5. Give, give, give, give, and then give more--and then ask
Networking hack No. 5: Give 10x more than everyone else.
Whenever I meet someone new, my first thought is not, "What can I get out of this person?"
My first thought is, "How can I help this person?"
Whenever you help someone reach a goal, make a connection, overcome an obstacle, etc., you are doing so many important things for that relationship. You are establishing a friendship. You are showing your willingness to invest in him or her first. You are showing your value. And you are building trust.
When people immediately ask for something from someone they just met, a very different precedent for the relationship is established. Immediately, the other party knows that they are nothing more than a steppingstone--and nobody likes to feel like that.
Give first. Give, give, give--and then give some more.
From a mentality standpoint, this is also extremely helpful in the long run. It's never good to be so reliant upon the kind gesture of someone else. You want to be able to stand on your own two feet. If something comes from the relationship, great. If not, all good, too.
6. Keep your word
Your word is everything. Nobody makes referrals to someone who is "kind of reliable." Nobody makes introductions to someone who is "sometimes there."
You're either there or you're not.
Especially in business (and you'd be surprised how small big cities can be ... ), your word and reputation is arguably your greatest asset. If you say you're going to do something, do it. If you promise to follow up, follow up. If you close a deal, make sure that deal is upheld to the highest standard.
If you are not able to do this, then all your other networking efforts amount to very little. For every lead in, two leads fall out.
Besides, a friend always keeps his or her word to a friend, right?
7. Introduce yourself
And finally, the most simple networking hack of them all.
While a referral or an introduction can be great, at the end of the day it's all about you grabbing life by the horns and saying, "This is who I am and this is what I do."
At the gym. At the pool. At the club. At whatever event. Introduce yourself. Walk up, stick your hand out, and say, "Hi, I'm Cole." (Although I do suggest you use your own name and not mine.)
I have met some truly incredible people this way, and through the rest of the tactics I have written about here. My intention is to show you that networking is really not about hacking anyone. It's not about cheating the system or getting more out than you put in. Real networking is just about being open to life and the people who cross your path. Real networking is about expanding your friend group. Real networking means putting your genuine self out there--not wearing your sales suit trying to sell everyone.
Be who you are and you will attract whom you need.