I like Chris Brogan. He’s one of a few people I know of online that has genuinely figured out how to succeed at the service of others. As opposed to the expense of others like most.
Chris is a good egg.
Which is why it pains me to have to publicly shame him in front of the hundreds of millions of people that read my blog each and every day*.
*Actual number of readers may not be accurate.
This whole thing started a few days ago while reading his new book “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.”
Before I continue, let me say that it’s a really, really, really good book. Really. You should totally read it. Just not right now. Wait until you finish this first.
Now, I’m on page so-and-so (I’m reading it on the Kindle app and have no idea if my page numbers are going to line up with yours) and this is what Chris says about networking:
“Does networking work?” What do you get for an answer? If you hear “yes,” run away from the person who tells you that. If you said yes, you’ll have to tell me how it has worked for you.
My answer? A resounding and enthusiastic “YES!”
WAIT!!! Where are you going?!? I don’t think you were supposed to actually get up and run away. Come back over here and sit down. Especially you, Brogan.
Yes, networking works. That’s right. I said it.
And not only am I going to tell you how it has worked for me, but I am going to be so convincing that the only outcome I am willing to accept is Chris Brogan entitling his next book “Marc Was Right!” (it’s a thriller).
The truth is that about 30-40% of my new business comes from networking. And it’s not by accident or necessity either. Networking works. Assuming that you know what you’re doing. If you are networking and not getting any business from it, you are doing it wrong. Period. In other words, don’t blame the car for not getting you to your destination when you don’t know how to drive.
So, let’s start by figuring out how to drive, shall we?
Change Your Mindset
The first problem with networking is that it’s networking. And we all have this awful vision in our minds of what networking is. It’s that annoying guy running around the room handing out cards. It’s that awkward moment of standing in the corner waiting for someone to talk to you. It’s going home after three hours with a stack of business cards from more life insurance sales people than you need to know in 10 lifetimes.
It’s a culmination of bad experiences, unprofessional people and crappy attitudes.
No wonder, you don’t like it. So, if you are going to succeed at it, the first thing you will need to do is change how you think about it.
Here’s what I do. I never, ever, ever, ever say that I am going networking. I know that if I call it networking it’s going to drum up all of those bad experiences from the past. And that will be out on display to anyone that looks at my face or body language. And who wants to talk to that guy?
Instead, I say that I am going to “meet some people” or “make some new friends.” I know. It sounds rediculous. But it’s that small shift in your mindset that will change the way you see it and ultimately how successful you are at it.
Whether you realize it or not, walking out the door saying “time to go make some new friends” will have you approaching it from a much different angle. Trying to sell everyone in the room is not how you treat your friends. Shoving cards down someone’s throat is not how you say “hi” to your friends. Sitting in the corner waiting for someone to talk to you is not how you react around your friends.
And every person in that room is your friend…they just don’t know it yet.
Stop Trying to Sell People Stuff
It goes against conventional wisdom. You go to a networking event as a way to grow your business. To sell people stuff. Otherwise, what’s the point, right?
You are there to build relationships. That’s it. That’s your mission. You are not there to sell anything, and you shouldn’t even try.
I recently moved to Tampa and didn’t know a single person when I stepped out of the moving van. I found a local networking group with a few hundred active members and showed up. When it was time to tell everyone who I was and what brought me there, I made my intentions crystal clear.
I told everyone that I was looking for a new BFF.
Not once did I mention my company or what I did for a living. I didn’t try to sell anything or pitch anyone. In fact, I told them that I was specifically not looking for any business.
By the end of the night, I had more people coming up to me than anyone else in the room. Some wanted to introduce themselves. Some wanted to hear my story. Some wanted to know what I did for a living. And some wanted to apply for the job as my new BFF.
Within one year, that group and all of my friends running and participating in that group are solely responsible for introducing me to more opportunities than any other room I have ever been in. Yet, I never had to “sell” them anything. And yes, I found my new BFF.
Become a Connector
What is your first thought when you meet someone new at a networking function? If you’re anything like most people you are sizing them up to see if they are an ideal client. In other words, if I shake them upside down by their ankles, will money fall out of their pockets?
But most people can sniff that out from miles away and will avoid you like the plague.
Whenever I meet someone new, the first question I ask myself is “who do I already know that would be a good match for this person?” Because when you look at another person through those eyes, a few different things happen.
First, it forces you to actually listen to them when they are talking about who they are instead of you just standing there with that glazed over look in your eyes waiting for your chance to speak. You’re actually engaged in the conversation. You’re interested. You have to be, otherwise how are you going to find a good match for them?
Second, you are not just helping them out. You are also helping out the other person that you are introducing them to. You are now connecting two friends and thus you have two people out there grateful for having bumped into you.
Repeat at this over and over again and before long you will have dozens and dozens of people that “owe you one” and that’s not a bad thing!
As far as I’m concerned, this is the secret sauce to networking. You can’t just stand in the corner waiting for someone to say hi. But you also can’t run around and meet everyone in the room all at once without being kind of a jerk.
You need to do something that makes you stand out so you leave there and everybody in that room knows who you are.
And the best way to do that is to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
I admit, that I may have taken this to a whole new level of crazy, but not once have I ever walked away from one of these things regretting my decision to stand out. Here are just a few of the things I have done in order to get noticed in a room full of a few hundred or a few thousand people:
- Showed up in a full blown super hero costume with my company logo as the chest plate.
- Went to a ladies night out networking event as the only guy.
- Stood up and sang in front of about 300 people (with my wife there who’s never heard me sing before because I suck).
- Dressed up like a shark to an event featuring Mark Cuban.
- Attended a black tie affair in a 1970’s rust colored tuxedo with ruffles.
- Had a dozen pizzas delivered to the CEO of Papa Johns while he was on stage and I was sitting in the front row dressed like a slice of pepperoni and mushroom.
- Showed up to a Christmas party dressed as Hanukkah Harry (representing the tribe).
- Answered my shoe in the middle of an event when the facilitator was getting mad that someone’s phone kept ringing. The joke not only embarrassed the offender, but it lightened the mood of the room and lowered the facilitators blood pressure.
I know it’s uncomfortable. Scary. Borderline insane. I should probably see a therapist. Perhaps my mom didn’t hug me enough as a kid. All I know is that I very rarely leave a room without everybody in that room knowing that I was there.
You don’t have to be that ridiculous. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being a little fun on the bus. Rather than being the boring attorney just because all attorneys are boring, approach the runway from another angle. You’d be surprised.
There are a lot of people in that room fighting over the same piece of cheese. You can choose to be one of them and play the game and perhaps walk away with a little nibble or you can bring your own cheese and go out of your way to feed everyone else.
I would suggest the latter of the two.
If you become the most valuable person in the room by helping others, you are going to end up with more opportunities than anyone else in that room over time.
The way to be the MVP of the room is to be a giver and not a taker. Try and figure out how you can best help others. Maybe you can offer advice. Or give out referrals. Maybe you can show them around. Or invite them to other events. Maybe you can volunteer for the the organization. Or teach a workshop to the group.
Whatever it is, be a giver. Just don’t hold back and give with the expectation that you will receive. Give with no expectations in return. Be genuine.
Finally, Accept The Spoils
We are human beings. And for the most part human beings are decent.
When you walk into a room with a positive mindset and the sole purpose of making new friends people are going to want to get to know you and be your friend.
When you stop trying to sell people, they are going to stop avoiding you or being threatened by you. Instead, they are going to want to hang around with you.
When you connect other people in an effort to help them build solid relationships, they will always look for a way to connect you with their network.
When you stand out in a room, people want to know you because they want to stand out too. They just don’t have the balls to do it themselves.
And when you give to another human being, they almost always want to find a way to give back to you somehow. Not because they have to. Because they want to.
This is where the benefits of networking come in.
Sometimes they give back to you by giving you their business. Other times they have a referral. Sometimes it’s the introduction to someone new. Or maybe they invite you to another networking event where you get to meet a whole new community of people you otherwise never would have met.
And then sometimes they just become your friend.
But whatever the reward is for your efforts, it’s always worth it. Not because you “sold somebody” at a networking event. But because you changed your outcome to something more long term that is attainable and predictable. And you hit your goal.
And For All of You Bean Counters…
I know. Life can’t just be all sunshine, rainbows and lollipops. You have to make money. And if you are running around making friends and not making money, you will no longer have a roof over your head. Although you will have plenty of couches to crash on.
So, where does the money come from? I have no idea. It just comes. If I were to connect the dots, I could trace some of our biggest clients back to an event I went to or a person I met. Most of the business I have gotten from networking didn’t come from the actual person I met. It came from someone they introduced me to. Or another event they took me to.
I may not have signed up a new client that day, but if it wasn’t for that event I would have missed out on a new client (and the appetizers).
So, does networking work? Yes! Now you can go run away.
And as far as Chris Brogan goes, get out there and pick up his new book “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.” Just skip the page about networking unless you pick up the updated version where he corrects that paragraph. And of course, look out for his new book coming out next year entitled “Marc Was Right!”
I hear it’s really good!