Recently, YEC spoke with Robby about his experiences networking, and his advice for others aspiring to improve their own experience. His best advice is below.
Create and Share Content
Create more content. Don’t even worry about quality at first. Worry about quantity. Focus on your strengths: write posts on Medium, post pictures to Instagram, or create Snapchat stories. Upload videos to YouTube or if that’s not your thing, start a podcast. Make your voice known and be yourself. Get comfortable with the platform that works best for you. Take your network into your own hands by creating a community around your content and focusing 100 percent on providing value to your target audience (the people you want in your network). The content you create will only enhance your credibility in the network you build.
Cut the small talk. “How’s the weather?” “What do you do?” “How are you?” What do each of these questions have in common? They’re surface-level. They’re boring. If you want to turn a casual connection into a personal one, the answer is simple: you need to get personal. Talk to new connections you meet as a person, as a human being. Ask them about their family. Talk to them about whether or not they’re happy doing what they do. Be vulnerable and share something about yourself. If you can connect with someone on a personal level, it builds trust. And trust is the foundation of any relationship bound to have a big impact on your business. This is how I’ve sold and brokered many six- and seven-figure projects — by building trust before I needed it. And when the client needed someone they could trust, guess who they turned to? They guy they trusted, who didn’t need anything when they didn’t have anything to give — not the people who suddenly care because they have some cash to spend.
Without confidence, your ability to connect others is crippled. If you want to be a successful connector, then be one. Decide that you are. Make it happen. Start small and scale it up. Talk to people. Make introductions. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Most of all: GIVE. The best connectors are confident in their craft and take pride in providing value. And it’s this confidence that makes them so attractive to their connections.
Use Industry Events to Your Advantage
Making great connections isn’t so much about the venue or event itself. It’s more about creating an event within an event. It’s going to a conference, lunch or meet-up with purpose and not paying attention to the typical playbook. You’re not there to attend every session. You’re there to meet solid people, so act like it. For example, SXSW is beloved by many as a great opportunity to make solid business connections. Conversely, I’ve heard many rant about it being a total waste of time and money. Having attended 2016’s SXSWi, I can tell you I gained several solid business connections (and a lot of social media exposure) out of the experience. But it’s because I didn’t play by the rules. Instead, I went to private dinners, cocktails, events, parties, you name it. I was on Slack, GroupMe, Facebook, etc., coordinating with others and trying to help them get invites. I took ownership of the event, rather than letting the event agenda own me.
I don’t procrastinate on connecting with someone on the spot, right when I meet with them. Whether it’s Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn or another platform, I make sure we connect immediately and work to expand the depth of our connection through the channels that person favors. If I’m asking for a business card, I’m looking you up on LinkedIn at the same time and asking if we can connect on social. I want to ensure we make the connection on the spot because, even if we lose touch, there is a good chance you’ll periodically see an article or sentiment I share and I have a decent chance of staying on your radar. Beyond that, using a CRM is certainly imperative for managing relationships and key information like commonalities, personal stories, birthdays, etc. For our needs, we use Pipedrive as we’re relatively lean and nimble. Actually scheduling follow-ups can get cumbersome, so I highly recommend booking engines like Calendly.com to make this much easier and more automated.
Find Common Ground
First, do your homework. Know who you’re talking to, if at all possible. Find things you have in common. Did you live in the same state? Did you go to the same school? Love the same music? Show them you care enough to do a little research. That being said, don’t be a fanboy (or fangirl). Just be yourself. Be real. This may sound strange, but don’t think so much about “leaving a memorable impression.” The more you analyze and obsess about the importance of the meeting (or opportunity to meet), the less confident you’re going to be and the less real you’re going to act as a result.
Just be kind and open and expect the same in return (and if not, walk away gracefully). Don’t put them on a pedestal; instead, focus on the personal. Share something private about yourself or offer to make an introduction to someone who you think they’ll value. If you succeed and have their attention, use it wisely. Make it all about them. Listen. If you want to leave a memorable impression, you can’t be in sales mode. You have to trust that your heart and personality will stand on its own merit. If they remember you as someone they had a good time with, you won. You’re on the path to a friendship. And people love working with their friends.
Break More Than a Few Rules
I regularly embrace “networking faux pas.” If you want to beat Goliath, you can’t be Goliath. You have to be David. You have to play outside the boundaries a bit and take a few risks along the way. I don’t avoid politics or religion. I ask personal questions and give personal answers. I dance like it’s the last night of my life without so much as a drink required. And I’m not worried about embarrassing myself. In fact, at a recent YEC party someone tattooed (temporarily, of course) the YEC logo on my neck (in glaring red). And a lot of people gave me a hard time about it (OK, just a few, but it felt like a lot). But you know what? I think they just thought it was funny — and that I was real.
Sing a little karaoke. Tell a childhood story. Share a fear. Don’t always follow the rules and stop worrying about screwing up. All of the above said, I certainly have areas I need to improve on. For example, I need to improve my name recall ability. I’m amazing at remembering faces and using technology to stay in touch, but I’m horrible at remembering names. And to me, nothing is worse than not remembering a person’s name. It’s hard to disguise and it says something about how important that person is to you (whether that’s true or not, perception is reality in many ways). On more than one occasion I’ve stumbled on someone’s name and it resulted in a bit of embarrassment. A few of the times, it worked in my favor, though, because it sent a subliminal message and changed the “seating at the table” if you know what I mean. Suddenly they started selling me on working with them, because they felt the need to prove themselves worth remembering.