8 Ways to Establish a Large and Meaningful Network
Don’t be that person!
If you’ve ever been to a networking event, then you’ll know who I’m talking about: the person who goes around giving out business cards as if they’re flyers.
The best networkers give out business cards only when asked to do so or after you’ve established a personal connection. Otherwise, you may seem superficial, and the cards will become meaningless!
Here are some steps you can follow to create a large yet intimate network.
8 Best Practices for Networking
1. Meaningful Conversation
I can’t count how many times I’ve lost people’s attention during a conversation. Their feet start shifting, and their eyes start wandering around the room. This happened to me a lot when I used to talk about trivial things such as the weather and L.A. traffic.
If this also frequently happens to you, then try the “What-If Method.” This method is an excellent strategy to add value to anyone during a casual conversation.
The ‘What-If Method’
The “What-If Method” is a powerful conversational strategy that I learned from John Ullmen, a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
It has three main steps:
1) What and Why: Find out what happened recently. What kind of problem is the person facing? Why and how did this problem occur?
2) What If: Ask the person, “What if you would’ve done this instead?” You are basically brainstorming ideas and solutions that the person can implement.
3) Best-Case Scenario: Brainstorm a couple of ideas to reach an ideal solution. This is your ultimate goal—let the person walk away from the conversation feeling better than before.
2. Follow Up
Did you know that 90 percent of people don’t follow up on a connection that they’ve made? Follow up within the next few days after meeting the person, and you’ll already be way ahead of everyone else.
The best way to follow up is by connecting on LinkedIn or sending a casual email. Don’t call the person’s cell phone without messaging first. Instead, schedule a phone call via email or text message. Before your phone call, make sure you plan out the questions you want to ask, so you can have a productive conversation.
It’s important to stay organized. That way, you can keep track of the people in your growing network. Make a spreadsheet to write down facts about each person and the last time you interacted, and follow up every two months or so.
3. Group Social
Let’s be real. If you have hundreds of people in your network, then it’ll take you years to meet with them one on one. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do any one-on-one meetings, but hosting a group social is one effective way to stay in touch with all your friends and network.
In the book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi recommends inviting people in your network to your home for a casual drink, a board game night, or a potluck. Hosting someone at your residence is a great way to bond. Even if your place is not fancy, people will still have a great time if there is booze and good company. But drink responsibly, and don’t embarrass yourself.
4. Quality Over Quantity
As I mentioned earlier, try to establish a few meaningful connections at a networking event. Even just one connection is great if you’re really getting to know the person. It’s not necessarily effective to talk to everyone at the event.
Jot down some notes about the person right after meeting them while your memories are still fresh. Alternatively, you can do what Joshua Dorkin does. Jot down those notes on their business card while still talking to him or her. It’s unusual, but the person may be impressed by how attentive and interested you are.
5. Provide Value
As mentioned in step one, the “What-If Method” is a great way to add value during a casual conversation. But you want to continue to be of value to the person thereafter.
There are many beginners out there looking for mentors for free advice. There is a good and a bad way to find a mentor.
The bad way is to bombard the person with emails and questions, especially rudimentary questions that can be easily answered with some research.
The good way is to provide value to your mentor. For example, I’ve done market research, analyzed deals, and found retail tenants for developers—all for free. In exchange, they provided valuable feedback for my reports.
We also became close friends. Who wouldn’t want to mentor someone who’s ambitious, hard-working, and always looking to provide value to you?
6. Leadership Presence
The more comfortable you appear at a meeting or networking event, the more leadership presence you have.
This is not something you just pick up. It takes years of consistent effort, but here are some things that you can do to speed things up.
Toastmaster: Find a nearby Toastmaster to attend. This is an educational organization for public speaking with thousands of chapters throughout the world. You should have no problem finding a chapter in your city. I live in Los Angeles, and we have around 40 chapters here; however, not all chapters are the same, so find one that you like.
Networking and Meetups: Keep going to networking events consistently. You may feel uncomfortable talking to complete strangers at first, but keep attending events until you become that social person with great confidence. The more often and consistently you go to these networking events, the more natural you’ll feel—and eventually, it’ll become second nature for you. Bonus leadership presence if you are the host of these meetings.
Confidence: You can’t have a strong leadership presence without confidence. And confidence can’t be faked; it has to be earned. The best way to gain confidence is by accomplishing your goals and targets consistently. Start with smaller and more achievable goals, and eventually you’ll feel like you can accomplish anything you set your eyes on. Then, start aiming for bigger things. This obviously takes a lot of diligence and commitment, so make sure you’re ready for it.
7. Set Goals
This is another topic entirely, but you need to start setting weekly goals. Your network isn’t going to grow itself. It takes a lot of nourishing and attention.
If you’re not setting weekly goals already, then start writing them down on a whiteboard. Writing it in your notebook is not as effective. Write them down somewhere in your room that’s visible. Include your weekly goals for expanding your network, and you’ll see amazing results.
For example, you can set goals like how many people you want to meet this month, how many socials you want to attend this week, or how many meetups you want to host consistently.
8. Be Genuine
Lastly and most importantly is to be genuine. None of the things above that you do will help if you’re not a genuine person.
You’ve got to be genuinely interested in helping others and listening to their stories. It’s not as easy as it sounds. One way to do this is by changing your mindset.
For example, listening to other people’s stories enhances your knowledge, and helping others makes you a better problem-solver. One could argue that this is actually not genuine because you’re trying to expand your own knowledge by helping others, so there is a hidden agenda. I personally don’t agree that this is the case, but you can be your own judge.
Everyone grows his or her network differently. What are you doing that’s working well?
Comment below to let us know what your favorite methods are!