Networking properly can be a bind, requiring a substantial investment of time and effort to get results that are worthwhile. That said, wouldn’t it be cool to take a few shortcuts to get to those results faster and with a little less leg work? This list of networking hacks should help you do just that.
Before we get into the list of networking hacks, remember that the hacks listed do not mean that you ignore the fundamentals of networking, things like;
- Keeping your focus on building relationships and not just selling. You are aiming to establish friendships over commercial relationships.
- Giving instead of taking. Ask not what your network can do for you, ask what you can do for your network – although this can be “hacked” (see below).
- Playing the long game by regularly staying in touch with your connections (also “hackable”).
A hack is defined by the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary as “… a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something …”. And if you have tried networking and discovered that it is more difficult than it seems, then you know that this is one area in which hacks become extremely useful.
The List of Networking Hacks
The networking hack list offers ways to up your networking game if you have a good grasp of networking basics. They are enhancements rather than core principles.
So here are some the networking hacks that you should be using.
- Position Yourself
- Be Noticeable
- Shut Up and Listen
- Make Notes, Create Profiles
- Be In the Right Place
- Give, Help Offer
- Say Thank You
- Make Introductions
- Plan Your Network
- Keep Up to Date
- Get Creative
There’s also a bonus hack ;).
Let’s look at each in turn.
1. Position Yourself
Become an “expert”. Find something that you can be the “go-to” person for. It doesn’t need to be an entire field or discipline. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t. Rather focus on becoming well versed on a particular aspect of something useful and dominate your niche. And you don’t have to know more about your chosen field of expertise than everyone else in the world; you just have to know more than the average Jo (this isn’t a spelling mistake, it’s for inclusivity sake).
For example, instead of trying to become an expert on sales, focus on becoming an online B2B sales expert. If you are a mechanic, instead of being an expert on all cars, find one popular make and model to become an expert in – say, Ford Mustangs or classic BMWs.
This doesn’t mean that you only give advice on whatever you are an expert in, but your expertise will open the door to more general opportunities. Someone who comes to you for advice within your field of expertise – say local business website SEO – may refer a friend to you about something more general – say building a WordPress-based website.
Yes, it will take a fair amount of time and effort, but with consistent action, virtually anyone can establish themselves as an expert.
Becoming an expert goes beyond simply networking but and necessitates that you start a blog or podcast to demonstrate your knowledge (and build up a following). However, more than simply being a chore, blogs and podcasts are fantastic vehicles not only for getting your name out there but also for keeping in touch with your network connections. Publishing a new blog post or podcast episode is a great reason to get in touch with your connections again.
2. Be Noticeable
Want to be noticed? Be noticeable. Being noticed can be a game-changer when networking as it makes other people want to meet you. This can be in-person or online.
Being noticeable in-person usually comes down to your appearance. Most people at networking events (or other places where networking may occur) are desperately looking for an “in” with which to start a conversation. Smart people give it to them by wearing something remarkable (something that can be remarked upon). I am sure you have heard stories (or actually seen) people who wear a signature item of clothing that helps them stand out from the crowd. If you ask them, I guarantee that they will attest to just how effective this strategy is.
You could also be remarkable by what you say. This may include being able to introduce people at an event to one another – being a true networker. The trick is not to just introduce anyone to anyone but rather to make sure they have something in common or one could potentially help the other with a challenge. Being an adept networker in this way will make you remarkable. People will remember you and talk about you.
Finally, you could become noticeable online by networking with influencers in the hopes of getting interviewed on their podcasts or other mentioned in other media. Influencers have large and well-established audiences and getting your name in front of all those people could very well see you get a nice popularity “bump”. Cloris Kylie is an expert at influencer networking and her website is well worth checking out in this regard. It can take a bit of time and effort but it could really supercharge your network.
3. Shut Up and Listen
This should go without saying, but listening is crucial in face-to-face (or VoIP) interactions. However, most people default to wanting to tell the person they are talking to about what they do so badly that they either dominate the conversation or make little effort to actually listen to what the other person is saying.
Listening is a habit that needs to be practiced to be perfected. Good listeners are always seen as great conversationalists.
To be a good listener, resolve not to tell anyone about what you do or sell unless they ask, and if you do describe your line of work, to keep it brief before quickly moving the focus of the conversation back to the other party. Toning down the drive to tell the world about what you do from your mind will make it easier for you to want to listen.
Try asking questions that open the other person up and encourage them to talk. When someone tells you about themselves and what they do and like, they are giving you a set of keys to unlock their potential as a connection, a potential friend, perhaps a mentor, and as a resource for your network. Let them do the work and you can simply listen and learn.
4. Make Notes, Create Profiles
When you are able to get people to open up to you, be sure to find a way to record the most important things they reveal about themselves and start to build a profile on each. If you are only reconnecting with them once every month or two, it’s impossible to remember all of the crucial minutiae about their lives and businesses that will reveal access points for relationship nurturing, especially over weeks, months, and even years. The way to counter this is to build a profile on each of your connections.
Profiles are structured data sets that contain as many pertinent details about each connection as possible; who they are, what they do, what they like and don’t like, and so on. Profiles can be built up over time with new details added as they become known to you until you have a detailed and well-rounded impression of who each connection is simply because of the data amassed.
Obviously, it makes sense to organize your profile notes according to business networking best practices, either in an online system like Tribemine, in a spreadsheet, or even on paper (properly collated and filed, of course).
A final note on profiles is that they should include a system through which you are able to schedule regular conversations with each of your network connections, ensuring that you stay in touch and don’t overlook anyone.
5. Be in the Right Place
When attending an event at which you want to do some networking, here are a few ideas on where to position yourself to the best effect. Don’t stand near the door, hoping to catch people as they walk in. According to Vanessa Van Edwards of scienceofpeople.com, arriving people want a few moments to acclimatize to their new environment, which is especially important as it is stressful to many of them.
The best place to stand is where people leave the bar; they have a drink in hand and are ready to start networking.
If there is food, do not stand where people leave the buffet with their food. It’s the opposite of approaching people leaving the bar. The reason for this is that their hands will be full and they will be wanting to find a place to set their food down. They are most probably also peckish and want a bite to eat before engaging in conversation.
Instead, either strike up a conversation in the buffet queue or ask to join people at their table.
6. Give, Help, Offer
If you want to start building a relationship, give, help, offer. Generosity is hands-down the best way to prove that you are keen to establish a business relationship with another person and demonstrate that you can be a reliable and supportive resource.
The trick is to give just enough without becoming clingy or seeming too desperate. This can be achieved by regularly staying in contact with each of your prospective connections (which is why having a system to manage and record your interactions with them is essential) and reaching out to every two months. However, when contacting them, make sure you include something useful for them; a link to an article or video that they may find interesting, or a worksheet or whitepaper.
However, do not use this as an opportunity to sell to them. Any links or files sent to them should not be your material (unless they ask for it of course). It should be content or material from a third party – one whose work will most likely benefit your prospective connection.
7. Say Thank You
Good manners are sometimes neglected in the rush of life, but returning to the proper way of doing things can benefit your networking campaign. And one of the best things you can do to be remembered is to simply say thank you.
If you attend an event, thank the organizer. Not only will they appreciate the gesture, but they are also connected to pretty much all of the attendees and so would be a great person to be on good terms with.
If someone engages with you in conversation, offers you some advice, or refers you to one of their connections, take the time to thank them afterward with a note.
And when I say thank them, I don’t mean sending a quick online message or e-mail. I am talking about hand writing a note or card and posting it to them. Yes, it takes extra work, but the results will speak for themselves. And like anything, if you keep a small collection of elegant cards or a pad or two of quality writing paper in your office and get into the habit of writing a personalized note after meeting someone new, it will soon seem like just part of the process.
If they went out of their way for you, you might think about including a small gift or token that they might appreciate (which is where knowing where their interests lie becomes important). Such gestures will be universally welcomed and will help make you memorable.
8. Make Introductions
Instead of seeing your network as you being connected to a select group of businesspeople, rather view it as you being connected to a select group of businesspeople, who are also connected to one another. As the “hub” of your network, it is up to you to introduce your connections to one another in the hopes that they will hit it off and do the same for you.
And if you hear of anyone (whether in your network or not) who is looking for a particular product, service, or opportunity, think of possible ways this might benefit anyone in your network. You never know what benefits your connections might get out of such referrals, and if they do benefit, there is a good chance that they will return the favor.
9. Plan Your Network
Most people understand that if you want to do something properly, you need to do some planning. Winging it is fine for a night out on the town, but when you are dealing with your network, planning is key. Yes, serendipity will have a hand in adding some people to your network – those that you bump into in the check-out line at the grocery store and hit it off with, for example. But for the rest, wouldn’t it make sense to try to network with the most accomplished, most experienced people you can. As Mike Macedonia suggests, we should “network up”.
Without being too picky, try to find people who would be an asset to your network. They don’t have to be Warren Buffet or Richard Branson, but even one or two “rungs” above where you are will make them a valuable asset and a font of knowledge and insight.
When planning your network, be sure to keep it manageable. Your 10,000 connections on LinkedIn is not your real network, sorry to say. Sure, you would have a few in there that would be true network connections, but most are just “cards in your Rolodex”.
According to Judy Robinett in her book “How to Be a Power Connector: The 5 + 50 + 100 Rule For Turning Your Business Network into Profits” (Good book, by the way), your network should consist of three concentric “rings”. In the “ring” closest to you are the five or so people with whom you interact daily. They are your wingmen, your partners, your posse. Beyond that are around 50 people with whom interact weekly and to whose lives you are constantly trying to add value. Finally, there are a further 100 or so people who you engage with monthly and who would help you out if you asked them for a favor.
Whatever you think of Judy Robinett’s network structure (I personally think that it may be a little ambitious for most normal people like me), the idea of visualizing your network as something with a structure can help you organize your connections according to their value to you and your network. You can then set about figuring out how to attract the highest value connections to each tier.
Obviously, planning sometimes has a habit of not becoming reality so don’t get fixated on any one prospect. Hedge your bets instead by testing the water with several people at a time. If just one becomes a part of your network, that’s a great achievement.
10. Keep Up to Date
As an addendum to the creation of profiles in one of the points above, it’s a good idea to use the information collected on each connection to peruse their website, blog and the social media profiles you have access to for news and insights about what they are planning and doing. You might also be able to discover recent achievements, which are reason in themselves to reach out and reconnect.
One way to make this easier is to find the web addresses of their personal and business pages on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and others. Save those links in the profile you create for them (as per point 4, above) so that all you have to do is click on each link to go straight to the relevant pages. You should also add a link to their business website news page and/or their blog. Doing this cuts down on the time to catch up on what your connections are doing immensely. If they might feature in the news, you might also search Google News or Google Trends for their name or their business’s name.
To keep up to date, create a schedule through which you undertake to update the records of each of your connections on a regular basis. With the necessary links in place, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to go through their news. Setting aside just half an hour each working day to do this would allow you to review each connection’s profile once every two months or so.
The benefit of doing this is that when you do reach out to them, you have something to talk about, something that they will be interested in discussing, you can be sure. After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about what they are doing?
Although one of the precepts of good networking is to give, it makes sense to ask for certain things if they will benefit your network. One important example of this is to ask newer connections to introduce you to any of their network connections that you may have something on common with or who may be valuable members of your network.
Being introduced to the connections of others is like a “fast-track” to establishing network connections as you can forego much of the initial vetting in most cases. They are already valuable connections in the networks of others, after all.
12. Get Creative
This may seem like a bit of a nebulous point, especially if you are not a creative type, but all it means is that you could try taking a different approach, one that others are not. Most people do the same thing again and again, whether that’s with networking or anything else. If the crowd is going one way, look at alternative ways to get to the same destination. Take a chance. Be bold. Dare to be different. Your network will thank you for it.
Bonus 1: Attract Connections
Instead of you looking for connections, there are ways to attract attention and get others to reach out to you. This is especially true online. Someone that I have been watching for a time now, and who is a masterful networker is Dragos Balasoiu, a branding specialist at Crop Studio. Watching Dragos engage and network on LinkedIn has been inspirational. He posts helpful, insightful content often, he is friendly and he has a sense of humor. I am sure that pretty much everyone who comes across his profile reaches out to connect with him. If you are on LinkedIn, check him out.
Bonus 2: Never Come Across Over-Eager, Needy or Salesy
This needs to be said as it is one of the main reasons that people are put off networking. Don’t come across as over-eager, needy, or salesy.
When you have just met someone face-to-face or online, send a follow-up message, but for the love of Mike, keep it brief. If a conversation develops, engage by all means but they usually die after a bit of to-and-fro’ing. Let it end. Move on. And then wait a week or so. Don’t send a barrage of emails asking all sorts of questions. It reeks of desperation. Yes, you should be in touch a few times in the first one or two months after engaging with someone new, but it’s important to appear a little detached rather than eager.
Next, keep the fawning and flattery to a minimum. A little is charming but it can quickly become annoying and seem insincere.
Finally, and the most important thing to avoid, is never, never, never, ever sell a network connection. It’s the quickest way to ruin a relationship. Once the relationship is established, go ahead and inform them why to do and offer in case they know of someone who may need your product or service. As with everything, frame your promotional efforts in terms of how they will benefit.
Networking can be a confusing minefield of dos and don’ts, but the list of hacks listed above will allow you to cut through the crap and get on with building a valuable, mutually beneficial network. Remember, networking is common sense. Treat others as you would like to be treated (unless you’re a sadomasochist), be generous, and put the interests of your connections before your own and there is no reason that your network cannot become your greatest asset.