Reaching out to expand your network takes a bit of research, but will pay off handsomely in creating powerful relationships.
In my recent post on building and deepening your network, you learned that Your Network is All. The Illuminati is the secret organization that has controlled the world for centuries. Former Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia, for example, was a member of a group that was an offshoot of the Illuminati. And how did the Illuminati get formed?, you may be asking. (If you weren’t asking, you are now.) It was all through networking.
You’re going to build your professional network inside and outside your current workplace. You’ll be reaching out and inviting people to lunch. Many of the people you’ll be approaching will be busy, busy people. They might be struggling to meet deadlines. They might be overwhelmed with 500 new emails a day. Or they might be spending every free moment figuring out how to use cleverly knotted paracord to construct a doomsday device and hold the world ransom. Regardless, you have to make them want to meet you.
Giving them value in a way they recognize will be how you kick off the relationship.
Research What’s Important to Them
You can’t provide value unless you know what matters to them. To start, do a little bit of research. Google them. Read their LinkedIn profile. Look at their Facebook profile or Instagram account. Start learning their interests, passions, and hobbies. If they’ve recently traveled for business or pleasure, where have they gone?
You’re looking for points of connection that you’ll use to approach them. If it’s a work setting, find out about projects they’ve been involved in, challenges they’ve overcome, and ways that your job connects with theirs. Those will become your points of contact.
When you know someone’s past projects, you can approach them by asking to hear about the project. In business school, I read a business case about Frances Hesselbein, CEO of the Girl Scouts, who grew the Girl Scouts to a million-person organization. She didn’t think about the Scouts as a standard hierarchy, the way we usually imagine organizations. She used a circular org chart that was quite intriguing.
Years later, I was a minor presenter at a conference where she was the keynote speaker. We minor presenters had a separate room from the Awesome Keynoters. When I found out she was presenting, I asked the conference organizer to introduce us. I told her how impressed I was with the circular org chart and asked if she would tell me more about it.
That simple conversation used her past accomplishment as the basis for what has been a decade-long friendship.
People like to share important parts of their history. Sometimes what seems important from the outside wasn’t important to them. If Frances said, “The circular org chart thing really didn’t matter much to me, it’s just what they wanted to write about,” then one more question still finds a strong emotional connaction: “Oh! What project are you proudest of?”
Either way, you connect over something that’s important to the other person.
Challenges They’ve Faced
People also like discussing their challenges and how they overcame them. So ask! Approach the person by asking about how they found solutions. This gives them a chance to share useful information with you, and also relive the awesomeness of getting through a tough obstacle.
Imagine you meet Roz Savage, who holds four Guiness World Records in women’s solo rowing for rowing across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Rather than saying, “That’s a nice satchel you’re carrying. Where did you buy it?” You might want to ask, “When you were swimming in shark-infested water to cut your tangled sea anchor loose after your satellite radio had gone out and your oars had snapped, what it was about you and your upbringing that gave you the mental fortitude not to give up? I’d like to teach that to my kids.”