You already know that networking is a relationships game–that you’re supposed to give with no immediate expectation of getting. That’s the wise starting premise, anyhow, of Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh’s forthcoming book, Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships That Matter.
But if you’re looking to grow your network in quality rather than just quantity, “I’d love to grab coffee and pick your brain” will only take you so far. So as you double down on those career resolutions for the year ahead, try these creative tactics–based on Gerber and Paugh’s relationship-focused advice–to deepen and expand your network.
1. Give A Small Gift To A Prospective Collaborator
One of my company’s advisers was recently promoted to a C-suite role. Rather than shoot him a congratulatory email, I sent him a small care package of local products with a note saying, “You’ve always been a chief to me.” He appreciated the gesture enough to tell his entire LinkedIn network about it. Being authentic and personal only took a few minutes but obviously made an impact.
Yes, gift giving can seem daunting at first, and you don’t ever want to be seen as sucking up (or bribing!) anyone. Most people take one look at the thicket of gifting etiquette and avoid it altogether. But that means there’s a huge opportunity for anyone willing to try. One handy rule for getting it right comes courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The only gift is a portion of thyself.” The best gifts are small and merely show that you’re thoughtful. They’re not flashy, materialistic presents that will get you into ethical trouble.
That’s why gifts are best given to people you’d like to work with in the future. Thoughtfulness is the seed of collaboration. Before you have any other professional or business relationship, send a prospective collaborator a small token of your interest in working together. If you need ideas, check out Alyce, a startup that mines social data to suggest small gifts.
2. Send A Check-In Video
The check-in email is a mainstay of networking. It’s still a great idea to reach out to people you haven’t seen in a while. But there are better ways to maintain those relationships than rattling off 50 mostly identical check-in emails with all your old contacts. When everyone is “checking in,” the thought doesn’t count anymore.
As an alternative, Gerber and Paugh suggest turning to video. In Superconnector, they write of one CEO who learned he could make an impact in seconds by sending people short videos from his phone. “Recording the videos for me is far faster than typing,” the CEO told them, “yet it contains so many points of communication–tone, style, passion, what mood I’m in.” He’s not alone; other execs (and entire organizations) have turned to video selfies to stay connected with their teams, so why not do the same with your network?
In a 30-second video, you should be able to share a quick update on what you’re doing these days, ask your contact what they’ve been up to, and follow up on something that’s important to them specifically. Even if it’s only for a moment, you’re demonstrating that you’re willing to give them your full and undivided attention.
3. Go To Smaller Networking Events
There are a lot of really bad networking events. While many (most) are notable for their sweaty palms, business card swaps, and mediocre wine, some provide the ideal setting for sparking collaboration–and most of them are pretty small.
Any networking event worthy of the name (or at least of your time) needs to be intimate enough to allow for deeper and more personal interactions. So try seeking out invite-only opportunities that promise to help separate signal from noise. Groups like Summit, Dialog, and F.ounders all focus on building small communities of people with similar goals and ambitions. But if you aren’t sure where to look for similar networking events, ask your existing contacts for their advice: “What’s a conference or event that you’d be excited to go to?”
In the meantime, you may be able to craft a small-scale networking experience even at larger, less focused events. There’s a technique I like to call the “build a treehouse” test: Imagine you’d have to work on a short but relatively complex project with the person you’re talking to–such as building a treehouse. Does this person seem like they’d vibe with your planning style? Would they share tools well? How would they deal with missing nails or split wood? Would it be fun?
Mentally answering these questions should help clue you into whether this person is someone you can collaborate with. If not, cut your losses and politely back out of the conversation so you can make introductions elsewhere (here are some tips for doing that elegantly). If you can build a treehouse with them, you can probably do a lot more.
Streamlining your network gives you a competitive advantage. More than a sprawling list of weak connections, you really want a handful of strong collaborators, and these tips can help you develop them without sending your zillionth email asking for yet another coffee date.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go send some check-in videos.