Before my wife and I settled in Austin, TX last year, we lived in 12 apartments in nine cities over the last 10 years. And while the digital nature of my work means that much of my network is only a mouse-click away, it was definitely challenging to move to new cities like Minneapolis and Austin without knowing many people in person.
The internet is great, but there's really something to be said for having face-to-face connections with people who can help motivate and inspire you.
If your own network is looking a bit lackluster, never fear. The start of a new year is the perfect time to invest in building your tribe. Here are a few of the techniques that've helped me meet friends, business partners, influencers, mentors and more.
Never Eat Alone
I was in San Francisco back when Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone book came out, and I took its message to heart, arranging to eat meals with anyone who'd agree to meet me. Doing so had a huge impact on my career. Not only did I meet a ton of new connections, I also got over any lingering fears I had about making conversation with people I didn't know.
Recently, I've 10x'd the Never Eat Alone approach by hosting my own Growth Chat dinners around the world. In every city I visited, I brought 10-15 growth-focused marketers together to hang out and talk growth. The events were a huge success, and thanks to some of the connections I made at them, I can get put in touch with pretty much anyone I want to meet.
You don't have to do a world-wide tour to see the same benefit. Joining meetup.com groups in your area - or forming your own, if none exist that meet your needs - can help you build your own network while also establishing you as a leader in your community.
Slack Your Way to Network Growth
Another network-building opportunity I discovered near the end of 2015 was marketing and growth Slack groups. Some of these, I've helped build with the connections I've made through my Growth Chats; others, I've graciously been invited to be a part of. In either case, I'm active in about 20 communities that give me an easy way to build my network.
To get started, check out Aja Frost's list of "12 Awesome #Slack Communities for Every Professional," published on the Sitepoint blog. There, you'll find network-building recommendations for startup founders, freelancers, creative workers and more.
Practice Good Networking
As far as specific networking tactics go, there's not much more I can tell you than to go out there, meet people and build relationships. It really is about being all action, not all talk.
However, I do see people making a lot of different mistakes in the actual execution of their networking - and that's what I want to touch on here. Here's an example: you get up the courage to go to a local networking event and actually talk to a few people. You have some great conversations, but after the event is over, you do nothing. Guess what kind of relationship is going to come from that encounter?
You got it - nothing.
Practicing good networking, to me, involves the following things:
- Being consistent. In my example above, a lack of consistency was the critical failure. One contact does not a network make. Nobody will get to know you and trust you if you only meet once. Be consistent both in your networking and in your follow-up. Even simple touches, such as forwarding an interesting email or sharing a social post, can build a relationship.
- Making sure you're connecting with the right people. There's a place for broad networking, but you also need to invest in approaching people who can help you (now or in the future). That doesn't just mean potential clients, though. Connecting with prospective customers, for example, could give you valuable insight when you're planning your next product or service.
- Having a good infrastructure in place. If somebody asks you for your card, do you have one to give? And even if you do, what does the website they'll land on when they're web-stalking you later look like? Part of building your network from scratch means looking like someone people want to know.
If all else fails, follow the advice of Dr. Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of Business Network International (BNI): "Be visible. Networking is a contact sport! You have to get out and connect with people."
Stop Being a Selfish Networker
Finally, when you're building a new network from the ground up, you can't approach networking with a "What's in it for me?" attitude. This is true for most networking, but it goes double for situations where people don't know you and are naturally inclined to be suspicious.
And I get it - you're not networking for fun. You're meeting new people with the hopes of getting something from them, whether it's referrals, leads, sales or even just mentorship and guidance. But when you network from this selfish place, you make it impossible for genuine connections to form. Nobody wants to hang out with the guy who's constantly self-promoting without giving anything in return!
Communication expert Amy Castro explains this well:
"I don't like feeling like I'm being 'sold to,' nor have I ever liked, probably to my detriment, 'selling myself.' Rather, I feel if people get to know me, know what I'm passionate about, and what I have to offer my friends, colleagues, and customers, they'll let me know if they want to associate with me."
Take her advice - along with the six signs you're being a selfish networker she shares in the linked article - to heart. The best relationships are born from mutual benefit, and that goes double for professionals who are building new networks from scratch.
What other tips do you have on building a network when you don't know anyone? Leave me a note below in the comments - I'd love to hear your suggestions: