Darrah Brustein is the co-founder of Equitable Payments, a merchant services brokerage, and founder of Network Under 40, a monthly networking event for young professionals. Darrah recently authored Finance Whiz Kids, a series of kids books that teach the basics of financial education.
We spoke with Darrah about her experiences networking, and her advice for others aspiring to improve their own experience:
I can track most things that have happened in my life — both personally and professionally — back to a relationship I’ve had with someone. One example is a guy whom I’d met while networking who said he had a podcast for which he’d like to interview me about my kids books. We stayed in contact and would see each other at events here and there. One day I got a notification in my inbox that said I was mentioned in an Inc. article called “Why Networking Doesn’t Work.”
Since one of my companies facilitates positive networking environments for young professionals, I panicked. I opened the article only to find that this guy was a columnist for Inc. and had written that while many organized networking events don’t work, my organization was one of the few where it did! The exposure resulted in global attention from people interested in expanding the events to their city. This is such a great example of the power of building and maintaining relationships because you never know how you can help someone, as well as the power of their connections and influence.
Ask for Recommendations
Ask people you trust and admire where they’d recommend you get involved to begin building your professional network. It’s a good idea to throw a wide net initially and try out a variety of organizations. Over time, you’ll get a sense for where you click with people, who attends, what works for your schedule, etc. and can narrow down where you participate to a small handful where you can truly become a staple and invest your time and energy.
Authenticity and a giving spirit are the most important factors in networking. At the root of networking and connecting is being yourself. It’s unwise (and challenging) to create relationships with others if you’re not being real. It’s no different than in friendships or romantic relationships — the foundation for the connection between two people is that both can be authentic. This is the precursor to what is secondarily most important: a giving spirit. If you’re not interested in knowing more about the other person with whom you’re connecting, as well as being generous of your time, resources and contacts, you will have a tough time developing a circle of strong connections.
Figure Out Your Goals
The venue you choose for networking completely depends on your goals. Are you looking to make friends, meet your professional peers, mingle with a wide variety of professionals, meet people in a specific industry, or get to know business owners or CIOs? These are just some examples of reasons you might be out to network. Some more include looking to find a business partner, funding, making sales, or creating referral-generating affiliate marketing partnerships. Where you go will depend entirely on your aims.
So step one: Be honest with yourself about your needs. Step two: Try out a variety of organizations/events/venues to see what works for you. Optional Step Three: Ask other people who are already networking in your arenas of interest for tips. You can also ask them to play your networking wing(wo)man as another great strategy!
Keep in Touch
Always send a LinkedIn invitation with a personalized note after you’ve met someone. This is a simple way to keep track of their latest job updates, birthday and other important things they might share. LinkedIn will send you daily digests each morning to make this easy for you. Another great tool is Newsle, which can link with your address book and social media contacts to send you emails letting you know when your contacts are in the news so you can reach out and congratulate them and/or discuss the topic for which they were featured. If they’re a client or close contact, I will add their birthday to my Google Calendar on an annual recurring basis. Also within my calendar, if we’ve met and determined that there are some synergies between our work (or reason why I’d like to stay in regular contact), I’ll add them (color-coded for this type of task) on a recurring monthly basis to my calendar and reach out with a hello, pertinent article, referral or event invite when it seems fitting.
Have a One-Sentence Summary
It’s great to give someone a one sentence explanation of what you do that shows value. A good sentence starter is, “I help people/businesses to _____.” Another great way is to say, “I’m like the ______ of _______” (Ex: “I’m like the Netflix of (my industry).” Or, “I’m like an insurance broker for credit card processing services” (which I happen to be)). It’s always important to consider why the other person should give a damn and to be respectful of the fact that they won’t remember too many details, so be concise. I also like to have a memorable business card. Mine looks like the black American Express credit card because I’m in credit card processing. I hand it to people with the stripe facing up and they always think I accidentally gave them my credit card and then laugh as they piece it together.
Just Don’t Be Pushy
Here’s your what not to do’s: Avoid being pushy, not giving them personal space, leading with information about yourself if you’ve not been asked to share, offering a business card without being asked for one and trying to sell them something. If I had to wrap that up into one choice: I’d say someone who has no concept of social etiquette because they blundered on one or more of the items listed here.