5 networking tips for the real world (including the Holy Grail)

Update: This post was also published at Damsels in Success.

Recently, more of my time is spent meeting with people who request to meet with me, instead of the other way around. Here’s some advice from being on the other side:

1) Give me a compelling reason to answer you. A lot of networking advice tells you to just check in with someone so that you’re on their mind.

But this sucks for busy people.

When you receive hundreds of emails a week, an email that “checks in” is like a nag draining you to do the dishes. That’s because while the email needs to be answered it becomes the lowest priority out of all the rest.

That email subsequently makes me feel guilty, sits in my inbox until the end of the week, and by the time I have time to answer it with something nice and charming, I’m exhausted.

So please, don’t check in with me unless you’re family.

Instead, tell me why you’re writing. Be interesting. Tell me that you were just in the paper, or that you’re working on a new project and want my feedback, or how you can help me, or that you just went on a great road trip. Preferably, the shorter and the more value, the better.

Networking is about developing relationships. Act like it.

2) Don’t lead me on. Someone recently tried to schedule a meeting with me, and then proceeded to reschedule the meeting, not once, not twice, but four times.

Now, I reschedule meetings all the time. It’s the nature of the beast. But there comes a point when you should use the etiquette napkin to clean up your act.

I also recently requested information from a piano teacher and found her rate to be quite expensive. When she followed up with me, I told her that it wasn’t in my budget. I could have told her I didn’t have the time, or that I needed to think about it, but being a tease is only acceptable on a Friday night. Outside of that, you’re just annoying.

3) Be specific, but mysterious, and a little humorous. When asking for things like meetings or advice, it’s important to give just the right amount of detail in a succinct manner. Something like, “I’d like to meet with you to learn more about you, tell you about the new idea I have to restructure my organization, and I hear you like blueberry pie, so I know we’ll have lots in common.”

Now I know not only that you’re interested in me, but why you’re talking to me, and I’m excited to meet you. Think of it as email foreplay.

Also, when people offer to pay for my lunch as an incentive to go to a meeting, I love this. Because as I’ve mentioned, I’m on a budget. But if I told the President of some company I would pay for his lunch, not so good. You have to find value in a way that’s important and specific to that person.

Use the internet to find out what might work. You don’t have to say, “I stalked you on Google,” but simply “Oh, I heard you enjoy sushi.”

4) Don’t ask for something I can’t give you. A lot of people email me and ask for things. We all like this, because it makes us feel special and powerful.

But it’s frustrating when you’re asking for something I can’t give you. Don’t ask me to promote your product on my blog when I’ve never promoted products on my blog. Don’t ask me to allow you to “give a talk” on your services when my organization has never allowed that.

There aren’t a lot of lines to cross when you’re asking for help, so you’ll know what’s right and wrong by simply paying attention.

Nobody likes to say no. Make it easy for me to say yes and the conversation will be gravy. In fact, letting me help you in a way that’s easy for me will increase my goodwill towards you. Funny how life works.

5) Tell me how you can help my friends. This is the Holy Grail of networking advice.

There’s only so much that I can do individually for my network and the very nature of having a network is expanding it so that we can all help each other more. Similarly, there’s only so much that a CEO can do for his company, a manager for his employees, and so on.

To that end, I’m always excited when people come to me with opportunities that I can pass on to others in my organization. This is probably even more important than helping me directly, because it makes me look good.

It’s also probably the hardest to do, but if you can pull it off, you’ll be so awesome you can give yourself a gold star.