I recently got asked how I get in front of the important clients and partners that I work with. To answer that requires a flashback (cue the tone chimes and wavy screen).
A couple of years ago, I attended one of the best events I’ve ever been to — the Titans of Direct Response, run by my good friend Brian Kurtz.
The content was great, the swag was great, and the attendees were great. I met people that ended up being clients, partners on projects, or drinking buddies (a few are now all of the above).
At this event, there was a short list of people that I wanted to shake hands with. One of them was Ryan Lee. The reason wasn’t anything grand — I’ve just always thought Ryan’s vision of the entrepreneur lifestyle aligns with mine. (You don’t have to “hustle” 24/7 and family and quality of life are more important than money).
So Ryan Lee was a speaker at Titans. He’s local to Stamford, CT where the event was held so he was speaking as a favor to Brian and then had some family stuff to attend to.
After he spoke, Brian convinced him to stick around for another hour for the panel discussion. Ryan said on stage that he would stay for half of the discussion and then had to duck out for an event that was important to his wife. As we all tend to do, he lost track of time and about 3/4 through the discussion, literally ran off the stage to the door… with parting words that went something like “my wife is going to kill me.” At about this same time, I had to use the restroom so I used the natural break in discussion to sneak out the back into the hallway.
What I saw there was horrible. People had run out the door after Ryan and cornered him in the lobby. They were shoving business cards at him, asking him questions, and pitching their various services.
Do you think Ryan Lee is going to be in any hurry to follow up with people that were so inconsiderate? He had given us extra time on stage and was very clear about a personal commitment. The web designer (or whatever he was yammering about) that made him late to meet his wife is not going to be first on the list to email after the event. My guess is those business cards went in the garbage can outside the hotel door.
I followed up with Ryan via email shortly after the event. Nothing came of it, but recently I found out we’ll be at the same event (a much more intimate event) this October. Maybe this will come back around. Maybe not. But being a decent human always trumps business. And more than that, being sleazy and needy has never improved my prospects.
There’s a reason networking is a dirty word. Because 99% of advice about it is crap. Even the “good” advice like “give first” has been bastardized to turn helping someone out into a strategic means to an end. Now, when you email someone and offer to help them out, their spidey senses tingle and warning alarms pop up on their computers.
Strategic networking and why it’s complete crap
So how can you be intentional when you build your network of friends, colleagues, and clients?
Be strategic about who you get in front of, but not how the relationship will look. I am a copywriter. But I rarely approach someone with the intent of writing copy for them. What happens instead is you form a friendship and sometimes down the road they need copy help. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes instead you get emails like this:
So how does this happen?
I go to events where people are that I want to work with. Then, I treat those people like humans not like celebrities. I don’t stand in speakers lines (do you think Seth Godin is going to remember that you were 15th in line after his 2-hour talk? Poor guy probably just has to go to the bathroom). I don’t hound them while they’re working. And I don’t corner them so they can’t leave to meet their wife.
Instead, I hang out at the bar, I have drinks with them. I don’t talk work.
Until I do talk work. But it’s all very natural, not calculated or planned. Eventually if you’re just being cool, the opportunity to shine will present itself. By then, you already may have learned something awesome about them (like that Brian Kurtz is also a little league umpire, or that Kevin Rogers’ kids are almost the same age as mine, or that we know the same person from somewhere… etc. etc.)
People like Ryan Lee have people pitching them all day long. When they meet someone that doesn’t have a pitch… that just acts normal, it’s refreshing.
You can totally tell when someone is talking to you with ulterior motives. So don’t have them. Just go into things seeing what happens.
Maybe something will happen at the event. Maybe it will happen the following week. Or maybe 2 years later, you run into Ryan Lee again and he remembers that you’re a cool person and something comes of it then. Or maybe not.
And oh yeah, one more tip… never leave the bar early. Close that bitch down.