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The Best Networking “Hack” I’ve Ever Used


Back when I was jumpstarting my fledging agency, I used to attend a lot of events. Between what I could find on Meetup.com and the events hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and our local technology council, I spent at least a night a week chatting (and usually drinking) with local business owners.

Most nights I’d come home and the first thing my wife would ask was, “So… did you get any clients tonight?”

“Maybe,” I’d say as I deposited that night’s loot of business cards into my sock drawer. “These things take time.”

These events almost always yielded no fruit. I’d show up, make small talk, do my best to maintain eye contact, and would swap business cards with whoever I was talking to. And then I’d repeat the ritual again with whoever was next.

The issue wasn’t that I wasn’t meeting people. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t meeting the right people.

My problem was that I didn’t really know what to do next. I’d make attempts to email some of the promising people I’d meet at these events, and I had every intent to keep in touch and ultimately win them over (or at least convince them to send me a referral or three).Business Card Exchange

But these contacts almost always ended up going nowhere beyond my sock drawer.

I was too focused on selling.

You’ve probably heard that networking is all about creating relationships. That’s great and is totally true, but that advice doesn’t tell you much about how to convert a sock drawer of cards into meaningful relationships.

When I started “professionally networking,” my thought was that I’d show up at these events, talk to people, and when the question “so, what do you do?” was inevitably asked, I’d tell them I built websites and applications. And maybe I’d get the response I was looking for: “Oh! You build websites. We should talk. I need a website.” It was a numbers game, right?

However, this rarely happened. To be honest, I was getting pretty burned out from all this networking. Showing up night after night and mingling with little to show for it wasn’t sustainable, and I almost wrote it off completely.

Then a mentor of mine clued me in on what I was doing wrong:

“Brennan, you’re not giving them anything.”

Where’s the value?

If the purpose of networking was to match up people who need websites or whatever with those who can provide, there are far more efficient ways of doing that. Job boards are basically that.

True networking though, is a mutual realization that each party is capable of delivering value to the other. This isn’t done when your intent is to drop a list of what you do for a living, who you’ve worked for, and other bits of bait meant to lure someone in.

This means that instead of talking first and foremost about your business, you instead take the time to learn about someone else’s. What have they been working on lately? What problems do they have? What sucks?

And rather than trying to make a sale, you should instead be trying to sell somebody on yourself first before selling them on your services.

I’ve been out of the dating pool now for about a decade, but I remember recently seeing a guy on YouTube who would stand at street corners and proposition women who passed by. His conversion rates were miserable. He was practicing a shock and awe campaign, and hoping that the law of numbers would be on his side.

This was a bit like me back when I started networking. I’d shock and awe. I was hoping that someone would go home with me on that first date — and by go home, I mean become a client 🙂

So the obvious next question is: How can you court people you meet at networking events?

Ask them to join your super secret club…

I’ve utilized a lot of tactics to do just this, and some have worked better than others. But the single best tactic I’ve come across is the “super secret club” trick. (In my new course, I’m covering a lot of those others tactics).

So what’s this trick?

The type of people who typically attend networking events love getting new business through these events, but they also tend to really like going to these events. They often love networking for the sake of networking.

So here’s what you can do: The “call-to-action” after you’ve talked to someone at an event is typically “we should stay in touch,” followed by an exchange of business cards.

Try this next time:

After meeting somebody new at an event, tell them that you really enjoyed chatting and that you want to run something by them.

You just so happen to organize a small, invitation-only group of local business owners who are interested in the intersection of [what is it you do] and business, and you think they’d be a great addition. Ask them if you have their permission to add them to your group — let them know you occasionally organize get-togethers and often send out interesting tidbits about business. I’ve seen people refer to this as their “Insider’s Circle”, but I wouldn’t get caught up on a name — my agency ultimately had a few thousand people on our list, and we never had a proper title of any sort.

You now have subscriber #1 to your newsletter, or another subscriber if you already have a list. And you now have permission to talk with them. But most importantly, you have set yourself up as an authority in that intersection of what it is you do and what they care about (their business). Whether you know it or not, you’ve sown the seeds of establishing yourself as an influencer.

As you attend more events in the future, this list will grow. And you’ll soon be able to start hosting your own networking mixers, seminars, and more. You’ll also slowly build up your reputation with those in your super secret club, and you’ll be kept front and center in their minds — which is hugely useful if you want them to think of you the next time they have a project or possible referral.

If you plan on picking up my new course, Double Your Freelancing Clients, I’ll be drilling into a lot more details around this, including how to technically opt people in on the spot and cultivate these relationships automatically over time. But in the meantime, give this tactic a shot the next time you attend a networking event or conference. Trust me – it’s much more effective than just ritually exchanging business cards with another face in the crowd.

How about you? What’s been your strategy to kick off new relationships at networking mixers?

  • hgdybecker

    Excellent timing! I’m going to my first event in my new business tomorrow.

    One thing that went through my mind while reading this: if you’re going to start a club, you should have meetings, right? Or is that not a requirement?

    • So it doesn’t really need to be a “club”. It’s really just an exclusive, invite-only network that *you* run.

      A few ways I’ve seen it work well:
      – Monthly meetings at a local bar / restaurant
      – A way to get registrations for a new seminar you’re working on
      – A traditional newsletter, where you intermittently send out thoughts on advances in your field and how they apply to the general business needs of those on your list

      I’m not saying to go and create a rival to your local Chamber of Commerce or whatever 🙂 (Though we sorta did that at my agency… but it wasn’t intentional at first!)

      • hgdybecker

        So in my case, I could say like:

        “I’m thinking about starting a group where entrepreneurs can discuss their online marketing efforts, find out what works, etc. Are you interested?”

        • Exxxxactly. Nothing fancy.

        • I’d probably make it a little more definitive – say you have a group, or you’re starting one – rather than you’re “thinking” about it. In my experience, things I’m “thinking” about doing never happen – so I’d be skeptical about joining a group that someone’s *thinking* about starting. But if one exists, sign me up! 🙂

  • Adrijus Guscia

    Brilliant hack! Definitely overlooked it myself..

  • Joe Large

    I like it, I’ll try it. Nice post.

  • Good post, I exactly experience same situations as you describe your starting point.
    I will for sure give it a try!

    I like the approach because it is transferring the online way of listbuilding into a real life environment …. as “life is generally happening when you look into the faces behind your smartphone or laptop”

  • I’m planning on doing something similar in a few weeks. I will be creating a very custom landing page for the event I’m going to. Then, I will offer a short series of emails that show my expertise and end with prompts to pursue an arrangement. The beauty of this is I can repurpose the custom landing page for future events.

  • Great networking hack!

    Another tactic I use is online forums. How? Look for questions you can answer, then post THE ultimate response…one that blows everyone else away.

    Tips:
    1. Address the person by name (or forum ID)
    2. Start by relating to their issue. Perhaps with a brief story about you facing the same or similar problem.
    3. Post detailed, actionable “how-to” lists. Include little warnings of known hurdles, etc.
    4. Post relative links to authority sites. This helps to establish trust that you know your stuff.
    5. Invite them and Give them a way to contact you. Twitter, email address, whatever.

    I built a business and established online authority using this method.

    • Adam Rasheed

      This is where quora comes in handy. I have a friend who became a full time consulting exclusively through helping people it on quora.

      • Very cool Adam!

        Quora is a great place to expand your reach and get your expertise out in the open. Even if you only go there once a month, give what you can.

        Based on my online experience with forums and social groups, the more you give, the more you get. Overwhelm people with your generous answers. If they don’t reach out to you for a paid gig, some one else will read your response and contact you.

        It doesn’t always lead to money. But it pays dividends by building relationships and authority. Good stuff!

  • This is a good article, and it really isn’t so much of a stretch. Relationship-based consulting or sales does focus on the relationship first, which means getting to know the other person. As you are in pursuit of the business, it’s important to spend most of your time listening, pulling information, not pushing or leading, but giving the other person a good hearing, possibly the chance to experience (in your presence) a taste of seeing their own ideas and desires come about.

    Don’t fill the space, create the space for your person to step into.

    Thanks for this.

  • Madis

    Thanks, great value here. Definitely can relate to the “too focused on selling thing”. Will try this out in next networking event!

  • Benjamin Holmgren

    Behind the pack by about two months? Yep. But I wanted to comment anyways because your post inspired me to take a different approach at a recent meetup – I appreciate it!

    I’ve tried to mash what you, Seth Godin, and Pat Flynn suggest and have been pretty pleased with the results.

    Check it out here: https://benholmgren.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/the-one-clever-trick-i-use-to-stand-out-at-a-networking-events/

  • Adam Rasheed

    Great Post! Would you recommend having a 3-5 day “crash course” autoresponder sequence for the list that catches them up on your most important blog posts? I’ve had two people on my let me know how much they disliked it, but I’m not sure if thats a universal thing.

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