How To Go It Solo at a Networking Event

2 08 2011

I’ve recently been asked to share my advice on how best to approach attending an in-person networking event when you have to go it alone, so I thought I’d just provide access to a PDF of the Nov. 2010 article I wrote for the now (sadly) defunct site: WomenEntrepreneur.com.

I’m also including a link to the article via Box.net. Please feel free to share it with others, and because the site where it first appeared no longer exists, I’m also reprinting a few of the tips I included in it here. Please let me know if you try either of these and how they turn out for you. 🙂

Two additional pieces of advice that I’ve used and have seen help solo attendees again and again:

1. Find the event’s host(s) or any of its sponsors and introduce yourself to them with the same warm smile and handshake as above, and then thank them for hosting and/or sponsoring the event. Remember, these people are hosting the event and they want everyone there to have a good experience — just as you would if you were hosting a party or event. You can then ask about their connection to or role with the group/event and find out what their goals are for the evening. You might be surprised by what you learn, and maybe you’ll discover a few ways you might help them.

If nothing comes to mind immediately, ask for a business card and make a note of their need on the back of it. Let them know you’ll be in touch if you come across whatever it is they need. At that point, explain what made you attend the event and your own goals for attending, and just wait and see what happens next. More often than not, they just might try to help you connect with other folks at the event or will follow up with you via e-mail or phone.

2. Get in line for something, whether it’s food, drink or the bathroom (seriously). Use that time to ask the person of your choice (in front or behind you) if she’s connected to the event or a member, or know anyone who was nominated. Or if it’s someone you know slightly, try one of my all-time favorite openers, which anyone can answer: Find out what they’re working on. For example, “Hi Britney, good to see you. Sandy Jones-Kaminski from Bella Domain (in case she looks like she doesn’t remember you); we met at the spring luncheon. How are things going? (Let them answer.) So what are you working on these days? Anything exciting?”

Sometimes the answer is something fun, like planning a trip to Australia. Or it might even be something you can assist them with by connecting them to a resource. If there aren’t any lines at the event, just look around for another solo person and practice any of the techniques mentioned above. I’ve met some of my favorite contacts that way, and they now make it a practice to do the same thing whenever they attend any type of event.

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Networking defined and why it matters

27 07 2011

Find out how I define networking and why I think it matters by watching the interview I did with Steve Piazzale, Ph.D., the host of  “You’re Hired!”

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5 Reasons to View Networking as Community Service

25 10 2010

I consider attending networking events to be my volunteer, or “community service” time each month and my goal is always to make it easy for people to ask for the help they need. Why? Here are five reasons:

View networking as community service1) You gotta give to get. (It’s called karma people!)

2) You’re creating opportunities to reinforce your personal brand.

3) It will make your efforts feel like a great use of your time as opposed to a waste. And, besides, don’t you feel good after a shift volunteering at the senior center?

4) “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people, than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” -Dale Carnegie

5) You just might offer help to the husband of the elusive business owner you’ve been cold calling since last spring.

Besides, more often than not, the majority of the people at a networking event are there because they need help with something. Otherwise, they’d probably be home watching Dancing with the Stars or the World Series or maybe their kid’s soccer game.

What I’m wondering these days is why we make it so difficult for people to “get to the ask” when we’re at in-person events, or worse, force them to launch into a canned or fake-sounding elevator pitch? I even question why people bother attending mixers, socials, networking events, or whatever else they’re called in your industry, if they’re not going to offer whatever help they can to the people they meet.  What is the point of attending then? To be seen? To look for a date? Never mind, I don’t really want to know why.

Bella Domain's Pay It Forward Party @ NextSpace SF

I want to further evangelize the pay it forward approach to networking, and get more people to start thinking about attending networking events as a form of giving back to their communities and simply consider it “community service.” It’s something that can be done a few times a quarter, month or week, or whatever your lifestyle allows.

Unfortunately, my lifestyle right now doesn’t allow me to donate time at the senior center or with a local Girl Scout troop, but my business requires me to do a certain amount of networking each month, and turning those scenarios or encounters into a “How can I help you right now?” conversation turns it into an act of community service, and that not only helps the other person (just even asking can indicate support to some people), it also helps my karma, which always feels good! 🙂 p.s. Here’s my community service event for November.

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No more old school thinking about job hopping

11 05 2010

I share this belief with new opportunity seekers all the time:

If a recruiter, HR person or hiring manager at a company you’re interviewing with gives you a hard time about the brevity of your employment with each company you’ve work for in, say, the past 5-10 years, politely thank them for their time, and either find another avenue into the company of your dreams, or just keep looking because in all likelihood that employer is not going to provide the right environment for YOU anyway.

Lots more on this from the delightfully outspoken “Penelope Trunk.” Her spot-on post from Brazen Careerist is titled, “Why Job Hoppers Make the Best Employees.” A favorite reason from her post:

“Job hoppers are higher performers.” Exactly….I know many of you will enjoy her other reasons, so please read and share her post because we must band together to stop the old schoolers from preventing some of the best employees out there from getting hired!

I’m going to end this post with her closing paragraph:

It is okay to quit. No career is interesting if it’s not engaging and challenging, and your most important job is to find that — over and over. Do not settle for outdated workplace models that accept complacency and downplay self-knowledge. Sure, the job market is tough nowadays – but that’s no reason to settle.

I couldn’t agree more, so please do your part and share this post with friends you have that are tired of hearing, “They have concerns about your job history. Can you explain the last 10 years of your career?” REALLY?!

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Learning to Love LinkedIn Tip #3

28 04 2010

LinkedIn is a great tool for doing follow up after meeting someone at an event, for coffee or when you’ve exchanged business cards after a long flight back from the east coast. I often send LinkedIn invites as my follow up, and then use it to keep in touch and up-to-date with what is happening with the person I’ve taken some time to get to know.

If you decide to use LinkedIn for this purpose as well, make sure that you are more than occasionally updating your status, while also checking your connections’ status updates, links, blogs, announcements, reading lists or whatever else they have shared there.

Try to interact with others when it’s relevant and sincere, and use it as a way to send support, congrats, resources, news or info you think they might truly find useful. And, whatever you do, don’t use it to try to “leverage the useless.” (More on that in my next book!)

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Are you on the National No Brain Picking list?

6 04 2010

Are you a consultant or a service provider? How many non-billable brain picking sessions did you sit through so far this year? Or, on the flip side, how many brains did you try to pick for free in Q1 of 2010? I think we should start a National Do Not Brain Pick registry and I want to be on it.

I know I’ve written about this before, and even referenced Matt Youngquist’s spot-on post about banning the phrase “pick your brain,” but based on what I’ve experienced, witnessed and heard during the first quarter of 2010, not that many people are getting the message. One of my favorite quotes Matt shares in his blog post is from Jeffrey Gitomer, “People call me all the time and ask to buy my lunch so they can pick my brain. My response is: ‘I have a $1000 an hour brain-picking fee, so I’ll buy your lunch!’ That stops all the bloodsuckers.”
No More Brain Picking! a SandyJK & Victor Pascual collaboration
And then in Kevin Dugan’s popular blog post titled, “Can I pick your brain?” he states, “Sending someone a note asking to pick their brain is the equivalent of saying you want them to work for free.”

If you are a consultant or a service provider you are no doubt all too often faced with the brain picking request. And, maybe, if you’re lucky, the other party will at least offer to buy your coffee or drink, or occasionally lunch. However, more often than not, you’ll only receive a “Thanks for meeting with me.”

In my book, “I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???” I write about the etiquette around follow-up meeting requests after meeting new people. I strongly encourage folks to show their gratitude for the meeting by, at the very least, offering to buy the other person’s cup of coffee, and have since added to my workshops that if they already have something to drink or they decline, when you go up to buy your latte, buy a $5 gift card and give it to them with a smile and say, “Thanks so much for making time to meet with me and I really want your next coffee to be on me.”

But, back to the brain picking sessions…..as Matt asks, “Do you even know folks who charge only $3.50 an hour for their expertise?” I don’t, and wouldn’t take advice from them if that was the highest value they placed on their intellectual capital.

Sometimes it’s much worse for me as both a consultant, service provider, and having a reputation as an “idea person” and “connector,” because more often than not, most folks I’m barely acquainted with think nothing of asking me to:

a) make an introduction to a highly valuable (potentially lucrative to them) relationship (notice I didn’t say “contact”) that I’ve worked years to develop, maintain and typically protect (which is why their target and I have a relationship, and are not just “acquaintances”), without acknowledging the value, size or real agenda of the ask. Usually, it’s that they want to pitch them on their services or sell them their product and generate revenue (money) from the new connection.

b) meet for coffee because they want to “pick your brain” (PYB) about how to start using social media in their business, effectively and cheaply promote their new site, network effectively at an industry association event, which companies to pitch their service or product to, review their site content for relevancy, the list goes on.

The things listed above are classic business development, marketing or networking strategy activities and are things I making my living doing, so why would someone ask me to do these things for free (or a cup of coffee)?! At the very least, it would be nice if they ASKED ME what I currently needed help with first or suggested some kind of equitable trade we could do in exchange for the pieces of brain matter or social capital they intended to acquire from me. For example, would I ask my mechanic to change my oil without offering him my credit card or maybe a website content refresh? Do I ask my accountant to file my annual LLC paperwork without expecting an invoice or at least offering to set up a Fan page on Facebook for her small practice?

Nicole Jordan writes about “Classic PYB behavior” in her blog post titled, “No. You can’t pick my brain.” She asks, “Would you ask a lawyer to coffee to “pick his brain?” and accurately states that, “Creative ideas and connections are the real currency in this digital economy,” and observes that “Strategic and creative counsel is one of the most under-monetized aspects of being in the communications and marketing business.” She’s right and I’m going to start doing as she suggests:

From now on, and especially for people who I do not know well (you know who you are): I will tell them I am happy to meet, that I am flattered they asked, and that because my time is extremely valuable I don’t do these PYB (or “sounding board”) sessions for free.

Nicole also shared that, “Most of the time I’ve said this, they’ve understood and honored it.  The ones that got a little ruffled, are the ones who will suck you dry and likely leave you paying for your own coffee. And theirs. Run. Fast.” Beep Beep!

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Here’s how to ask someone to work for equity

17 02 2010

How do you ask someone to work for equity? You spell at least some of it out and include it in your ad, email, position description or posting. For example (this is from an actual job description I recently received):

For the first 6 months, while we are raising capital, compensation is primarily in the form of equity in the company.  We will be offering full and part time options. After 6 months the position will be salaried.


Full time work (5 days/week) will be compensated with equity in the company and a $25K bonus at the end of the initial 6-month period. In an effort to be flexible and engage highly qualified individuals, we also offer part-time work (4 days/week), which will be compensated with a smaller ownership stake in the company allowing time for other pursuits.

THIS is an offer I’d be willing to consider. If you had the flexibility, would you? More on this topic HERE.

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