Traditional networking advice dictates that before you pitch someone, you should go out of your way to provide them as much value as you can. While networking should never just be an all-out pitch fest, bending over backwards to help someone you’ve just met can come across the wrong way.
Serve before you sell. But forgo the extremes and reserve them for people you know will feel comfortable receiving such favors. That said, there are plenty of ways to work your network so you can make your network work for you — without making anyone feel remotely uncomfortable.
1. Make one new introduction a week
Does everyone in your network know each other? Probably not. Yet the people in your network could likely benefit from knowing each other. Making introductions is a great way to become known as a connector; someone who’s readily willing to help others.
Introductions might turn into something productive, and they might not – that’s not the point. This simple action can keep you top-of-mind as an influential member of other peoples’ networks.
2. Share unique custom business cards
In a world where being ignored — even by a complete stranger — hurts our self-esteem, being noticed is a huge confidence boost. Once you’ve had a great conversation, stay memorable. In general, once everyone has left an event, they’ll leave with a huge stack of business cards.
I have a hard time remembering conversations and who each business card belongs to. That’s why I have a headshot and a few words describing what my company does on my custom business cards. As simple as this may sound, it has paid huge dividends and helped me land deals that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
3. Ask for introductions
If you’re at an event where you don’t know many people, ask one or two people in the room you do know for an introduction. The people you already know will make sure it’s someone that actually makes sense for you to talk to. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to help if you ask sincerely. I’ve had people introduce me to C-level executives at Fortune 500 companies just because I asked them nicely.
4. Send gifts
Sending someone in your network a gift is a gesture that goes far and beyond a cut and paste “Thank you…” message on LinkedIn. It catches people off guard. Books, flowers, or relatively inexpensive food delivery are all good options.
When you do something truly unexpected, you’ll be remembered no matter what. But when you do something that’s both unexpected and provides value, you’ll be remembered in only the most positive light, and they’ll look to repay the favor from a place of kindness rather than obligation.
In the software industry, for example, you’re rarely dealing with physically tangible products, so receiving a gift I can touch really stands out. I’ve had companies send me handwritten notes, t-shirts, boxes of energy drinks for the team, coffee, etc. And each time it puts a smile on my face. As a result, I feel much more connected to that company, leading to a much higher chance of partnership because I know they’re willing to go above and beyond for their customers.
5. Forget ‘working the room’
There’s a fair amount of networking advice that tells you to plan your exits before you even start talking to people so you can work the room and connect with as many people as possible. And while you might have to plan your exit so you can make a quick escape if you get caught talking to someone unhelpful, this piece of advice is best if forgotten — especially if you’re the kind of person who wants to become memorable to the people you meet.
Establishing a solid, meaningful relationship with just one person is better than having a mini pitch-fest with 10 different people who won’t care about you two days from now.
When you try too hard to provide value to someone you’ve just met upfront it is off-putting. People appreciate help. But if you’re overly eager, it will raise suspicion. So instead of going too far out of your way, try these approaches to networking and become remembered as a connector, a value provider, and an influencer.
Ian Blair is the co-founder of Buildfire, the easiest way to build mobile apps with no coding required.