When you’re involved in the startup community (or any realm of business for that matter), it pays to have a decent network. Just ask UrbanBound co-founder Jeff Elman. Last night, Jeff spoke on networking at an event for the Chicago Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Mentoring Committee. Through his years as an entrepreneur, Jeff has created quite an impressive network, and he was kind enough to share some tips and advice. Here are some of the highlights.
- Jeff likes to visualize networking by breaking the word down to two parts. “You have a net, and you have to work in order to fill it,” he says. You’re basically collecting contacts, and that requires some groundwork.
- Jeff tells us that, essentially, network = net worth. You need contacts to grow professionally, and to maintain success once you’ve grown. The more people you know, the easier it is to find work. Jeff recommends listing the top 20 companies that you’d like to work for, then trying to find contacts in each. The easiest way to get a job is through a referral.
- Come up with your Dream 100. These are 100 people you’d like to meet over time. It’s ok to make this list somewhat unrealistic, in fact, that’s kind of the point.
- Don’t be an alligator - big mouth, tiny ears. When you meet new people, don’t do all of the talking, and none of the listening.
- Read these books: Dale Carnegie's “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone”.
- Take a picture with people you’ve spoken to, then email it to them moments after parting ways, thanking them for their time. It’s a great way to set yourself apart.
- Be mindful of your image. Ask some of your closest friends, family members, or colleagues to describe the way they view you. If their descriptions differ from how you see yourself or would like to be seen, you have some work to do.
- Rank your contacts as A, B, or C. A contacts are people you think will call you back, B contacts are those who might call you back, and C contacts are those who probably won’t call you back.
- Find out details about people, and use them to create ‘wow moments’ for them. When Jeff was first starting out as a young entrepreneur, there was a certain partner at an accounting firm that he wanted to work with. He would call him just about every day, and eventually he got through. During the course of their conversation, the partner mentioned that he loved a local pizza place. It was roughly a year later when Jeff was finally able to schedule a dinner with this man, but when he did, he brought a pizza from the place in question and asked the waitress to bring it out. The partner was pleasantly surprised by Jeff’s gesture and attention to detail, and he agreed to work with him. It was a breakout moment for Jeff’s career.
When attending conferences or events…
Find a guest list and figure out who is attending. The more planning you can do before the event starts, the easier it will be to start up a conversation.
Don’t be a wallflower.
Don’t start conversations with what you do, ask people a question. What brings you to this event? Where are you from? Things like that get people talking, and it usually results in a more productive conversation.
Purple Elephant - This is one of my favorites. If you’re at an event where everyone is competing to network with one high-profile person, the chances are that person won’t remember many of the people that talk to them. Jeff suggests finding something unique to say to them, “I just want you to remember the words purple elephant, then you’ll know who I am.” he tells them. He’ll call that person a week or so later and say ‘purple elephant’ and they always remember.
Some famous examples
Mary Kay, who started a direct sale cosmetics empire, used to write five handwritten thank you notes every day. Adding a personal touch when reaching out to new contacts set her apart from the crowd. She was one of the most successful women in the history of her field.
Bill Clinton made it a point to document every interaction he made with potential contacts. He was the king of following up with people. I think it’s safe to say that he ending up being a success.
So there you have it. Networking advice from a professional networker, and a successful businessman. Even if your job doesn’t call for many contacts or networking, you should still do your best to build a solid network. You never know what tomorrow might bring. Networking is easier for some people than it is for others, but most people are willing to give you a moment of their time. Just relax, be kind, and be receptive. The world is full of potential connections and friends that could help unlock the door to your greatest aspirations. Check out Jeff’s blog, Startup Night Sweats, for more of his advice and reflections.