Personal networking is a key business skill. And as a VC, I get plenty of practice doing it. As one of my former high school coaches used to put it, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes better.” While I guess you could develop a “strategy” to networking successfully (… with many a book written about the subject), I think becoming especially productive at networking is largely tactical. Along the way, I’ve stumbled across two tactics which I think are valuable.
First is leveraging the pretty obvious concept of giving-to-get, but being specific about it. In any two-way relationship which builds based on the trust that the exchange between the parties will be equal over time, someone needs to give first. With any potentially valuable relationship, it’s just best to do something for the other person first and not worry about reciprocity initially.
- As a tactical matter, I try to end each networking conversation with “How can I specifically help you?” Rather than just getting to know someone with the hope that you may be helpful in some way in the future, directly asking the other person how clarifies and sets expectations immediately so that a meaningful relationship can develop sooner rather than later.
The second tactic is just the reciprocal of above. When networking to ask for help, I’ve found that after a rapport is established, it’s best to be as specific as possible about what you’re looking for. Even though it narrows the scope of possibilities, an extra level of specificity jogs the thinking for things that are current, as well as plants the seed for recognition recall in the future.
- For the job seeker, instead of saying “I’m looking for new job opportunities,” rather communicate “I am looking for a VP Product role at a consumer-mobile startup.”
- In seeking new customers, instead of saying “I’m looking for people to buy my product which does XYZ,” rather communicate “My product which does XYZ most resonates most with individuals in ABC roles at companies with DEF profiles that face GHI problems.”
- For VCs (including myself), instead of saying “I’m looking for innovative early-stage startup investment opportunities,” rather these days I am saying “I’m proactively seeking seed-stage investments in both ad tech and those which leverage the trend towards ubiquitous computing through device proliferation.”