I once accidentally made friends with a bored venture capitalist at a networking event because I was shy and introverted. We made eye contact at the snack table.
Hi, I'm Bill.
Hey, I'm David.
What do you do?
Programmer. New to the city. Here at this event because I am looking for a coworking space.
(I am good at this game, obviously.)
So I asked,
What do you do?
Oh, I'm a venture capitalist.
How do you like it?
"I kind of hate being a venture capitalist," he said. "I'm really only doing this because it's what my dad does. What I really care about is my personal training business."
"Oh cool, what is that like?" I asked.
And then we had an in-depth chat about his personal training business. Or I should say, he had a chat - I wasn't really that good at conversation. But I had inadvertently found what Bill cared about. And shyness came off as being a really good listener. So I rolled with it.
And ya know what happens when someone listens intently? People get excited. Undivided attention is rare these days in the era of Facebook notifications every five minutes. I learned all about Bill's personal training and how he gets much more joy from helping people get strong than he ever does investing money. And he seemed to really appreciate not being hounded for that cash money like I'm sure he gets from many other people he meets.
He then proceeded to introduce me to some other cool people. Bill was now a friend.
"Networking" has gotten a bad rap as something that involves high pressure salesy type strangers forcibly pressing business cards into your hand and asking if you want to buy their training package. I recently attended one of those general purpose mixer events, and a stranger did in fact forcibly press a business card into my hand and ask me to buy his training, but that is not the only or even a very good way to do networking.
The best way I've found to do networking: Provide value to people without expecting anything in return, and good things will happen.
What can you offer someone when you don't have much to offer? How about:
A genuinely interested listening ear
Attention goes for a premium these days. Having someone's undivided attention is a rare thing. Just listening and being genuinely interesting in someone can be an incredible gift. Plus, if you are an introvert by nature, you don't even have to be that good at conversation.
Introductions and referrals
Lately I've been keeping up with a fairly large number of people, mostly over email. I've got a big spreadsheet entitled "Crappy CRM 5000." Anytime I meet someone cool I put them in my spreadsheet and a note about what they do and what they need. If two people in my contacts could benefit from knowing each other, I try to introduce them to each other. This can be incredibly valuable and costs you nothing.
Referrals are how much of the consulting and freelance world works, and connecting two people in a business relationship can be a large favor.
If you come across an interesting article, useful tool, or helpful podcast and know someone who could potentially get a lot of good out of it, send them an email and tell them about it. If you've talked to me recently you may have found I won't shut up about Make Money Online, but that's because I've gotten a lot of value out of it and so mighten you.
Organize something or help the organizer of the something
If you go to a meetup and offer to videotape the talks, you provide the speaker who is probably earlier in their career an excellent portfolio piece in the video you provide. Or if there is a topic you care about but no meetup exists, start it yourself! Start an online chat group, a mastermind group, etc. Taking leadership is providing a valuable service to those you serve.
Simple expressions of gratitude
Maybe you want to network with someone you don't think you can provide anything of value to. Simply say that you love their work and it really helped you or you really appreciate it. The people we look up to online are still humans too, and there isn't all that much separating them from you.
So you might be asking, "But David, I was nice to this guy and he didn't buy my ebook." Well, my fellow networker, it doesn't work like that. You can't just say hi I like your shirt and then demand payment for your compliment. The bored venture capitalist might not have introduced me to anybody. And that would have been fine. You can't directly measure the value of every relationship in direct outcomes or dollar values.
But in general, generosity begets generosity. This may be how the concept of karma came about. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Increase your luck surface area. Etc. Etc. And I also just think this way of networking is much more fun. Eventually some of the people you meet will become clients or introduce you to clients, but probably not right away. Instead of extracting as much dollar value from everyone you meet as possible, provide as much value to everyone you meet as possible.