This blog is the second installment in a two part series that gives away my secrets to networking. If you missed the first part, I suggest you read it first so my suggestions here make even more sense!
Farm Your LinkedIn For Coffee Dates
After I’ve connected with someone I’ve met at a networking event or through a casual encounter on LinkedIn whom I’m interested in building a relationship with, I’ll ask them to coffee. Coffee is casual. It is a great way to get to know someone without spending a long time with them. I’ve had to escape from coffee meetings that weren’t going well before, but I also have had coffee meetings turn into best business friends.
I do this on a regular basis. I have one of those crazy huge LinkedIn networks, and there is absolutely no way I see each of those connections in a year. Many are overseas, so I only see them when I’m abroad. But for those that are local, I will send a casual message saying that we haven’t seen each other in a while so let’s catch up over coffee. Even if it’s a person I have no specific business with, I still want to get in front of them. I want to remind them of who I am and renew the trust they once had in me (trust inevitably fades over time without regular interaction).
Leverage Your Network For More Connections
Sometimes your network won’t be able to help you acheive your goal — at least, not directly. You may not know someone who has expertise in an area that you seek or works at a business you wish to strategically partner with, but I’ll bet someone in your network knows someone who does.
I’ve seen entrepreneurs just starting their first business excel because they leveraged their network in this way. They realize a piece of knowledge is missing in their tool kit and they go out and find it, wherever it may be.
This is the gold of LinkedIn. You can search for a given company or organization, or certain skills, and then see who in your network is connected to the resulting profiles. It’s amazing! All you have to do is ask the person / people you feel best connected to for an introduction. Technology is, at times, dubious, but this is like magic compared to the way we did it before social media.
More than once, a friend has asked, “How did you get that opportunity / engagement?” The honest truth is that I just asked. I just asked to fill an open advisory role at the newly opened Incubator in town. I just asked if a new business training center needed more instructors. I just asked for a meeting with my favorite European app development company.
Your network is full of people who love to connect with and help others. As your business grows, you’ll meet other like-minded business owners who want the same — the freedom of an entrepreneur who does what s/he loves. Overwhelmingly I find that people just want to help each other succeed.
Sure, it’s possible you might hear that scary word — no — but it’s important to bear in mind that ‘no’ actually means ‘not now’. More often than not I don’t hear back from my busy colleagues at all and have to follow up with them a bit. They never meant to send a negative signal.
Asking for a new connection, update, meeting, or opportunity is harmless, and often is the only way to acheive what you’re hoping to do. So be polite, frame your need in a way that benefits them, and ask!
Example: When I reached out to the app development team about meeting while I’m in Europe, I framed it as an opportunity to talk to someone who happens to represent one of their special interest markets. I personally want the meeting for network growth, but they’ll benefit from the meeting by having a live person in a specialty niche to learn from. Definitely worth the ask, and no big deal if the answer was no.