Recently, YEC spoke with Tao about his experiences networking and his advice for others aspiring to improve their own experience. His best advice is below.
Form Strong Ties With Those Around You
Networking can be described by an equation: value of a connection = (that person’s power) x (strength of the relationship).
Starting out, many people understand the first half of the equation, but the second half of the equation is too often neglected. You should seek to form strong and deep ties to the people around you who are most able to help you. In your interactions with others, you should be genuine, be humble, be kind, ask questions and show them that you value them as a human being. You’re working on building a friendship. That means sharing hobbies and sharing meals.
Make Connections Personal
I was browsing the web, reading forums and blogs related to my business niche (feminine sexual health), when I came across a blog post written by Tara Langdale-Schmidt, the owner of another company selling a complementary product. The analogy is that if I’m selling ketchup, she’s selling hotdogs.
As a social experiment, I randomly decided to feature and recommend Tara’s products on my website to my customers. Then I sent her an email with the subject line: “My company is now recommending your product to our customers.” I attached a link to our site where she could see her product picture and an affiliate link to buy it on Amazon.
We sent her some free products and she sent us $200 worth of free products back. She has shared our blog posts with her audience. She helped introduce me to some very important industry conferences, packaging providers and advertising opportunities. We’re going to be sharing a booth and splitting costs are some upcoming trade shows. I’ve introduced her to the industry connections that I have.
The key to making this connection lasting was that first public declaration of support for her products. Like most powerful businesswomen, Tara has a strong personality. She is also kind and understands the emotional struggle of getting shut down or treated like a second-class citizen due to our product niche. When I sent her that email, it resonated with her and she saw that we have similar personalities.
Be Vulnerable Whenever Possible
The most important quality for forming long-term friendships is vulnerability. Vulnerability is pretty key to making a deep connection with people. Sun-Tzu said: “Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak.”
The people who are constantly bragging about money, knowledge or accomplishments are pretty annoying to be around. The bragging creates a wall that makes it difficult to really get to know someone. It takes a lot of bravery to be vulnerable. It demonstrates a lot of trust and respect for someone to be vulnerable to them.
Make Connections Outside of Your Office
Every time I go rock climbing, I seem to meet some very successful people. Lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers and entrepreneurs are overrepresented at the climbing gym. Climbing is an intellectual and physical puzzle. Also if you learn how to belay, it’s a great icebreaker.
Use Systems and Tools to Simplify Your Life
Boomerang for Gmail is an excellent tool for scheduling follow-up emails. You can pre-write and pre-schedule your follow-up email at the time that you write it. They also have an excellent tool called Boomerang Respondable that uses artificial intelligence to help you craft emails that are the most likely to get a response.
Always Stay Sincere
For a cold email, first spend about 10 minutes doing research on the person you’re emailing. Read their LinkedIn, read their website and read some of their content. Then go for a five-minute walk around the block. While you’re walking, think of a specific, personal and honest compliment. Make sure to include compliment in the first section of the email.
It’s very important to NOT give a half-hearted generic compliment. Giving no compliment at all is better than giving a general, insincere compliment. People can see through that easily.
You can include the ask in the second section of the email, or you could leave it out altogether. Often the best policy is follow up with the ask about a week later. If you’re going to include the ask, using phrasing like “feel free” is important. Give people the option to back out.
Always, Always, Always Act Ethically
I cannot stress this enough. It’s very easy, when first starting out to feel insecure and inferior. Everyone goes through this. It’s also quite easy to compensate for insecurity by boasting and lying about yourself and name-dropping acquaintances as if they were close friends. A lot of business books will advise you to “fake it until you make it.” Don’t. People relate to awkwardness and self-deprecation, as we’ve all been there. But unethical behavior is another matter entirely.
The problem is that people talk. People can sense deceit. People will fact-check you. And if you’re caught acting unethically, you will not only burn that relationship forever. You will burn the bridges of everyone that person knows.
I’ve known some slimy, unethical networkers who do everything else right. They follow up, listen and act attentively. They became quite successful for a while. However, the unethical behaviors eventually caught up to them. Friends talk with friends. Stories don’t quite add up. Eventually word gets around and they get virtually blacklisted. In the long run, it’s not worth it.