Old Acquaintances and Second Chances

People change. Sometimes enough that they mature into completely different people. Strange to be back in my hometown – I’ve noticed that many old friends have an aversion to other people they knew in high school and have not seen since. Why shy away from folks you used to know? Perhaps you both have changed into a more compatible pair. I’ve seen many partnerships form between people who did not respect each other when they were younger. Some started businesses together. Others got married. You never know who you might bump into or connect with on a fresh level. At the very least, it’s worth the introduction. Avoid trading numbers if the reintroduction fails. But do not close your mind on outdated memories and awkward nostalgia. Ignore the past and give second chances where possible. You might build some great new relationships out of the deal.

Networking Without the Legwork

Who knows you? It’s a lot of work to get out there and meet people. It’s even more work to convince people to remember you. I know extraordinary professionals who are very well-connected without the help of Facebook, LinkedIn, search engine optimization, press or a single personal photo online. They largely don’t exist on the internet at all. These men and women spent years hitting the pavement to scale their network. As a result, they maintain a rich foundation of personability and respect with many people. That level of connection is difficult to beat.

Armed with tools of the internet era, we have the opportunity to make an impression on the world from our couches. While not as intimate or thorough as in-person meetups, you can at least blip on people’s radars. Social media can hold your name in the periphery of others and help you stay current. Blogs and content publishing can entertain, inspire and connect. These channels are fantastic for providing value to others and making impressions on people you’ve never met. Hustling in the streets could not possibly connect me with some of the people I’ve gotten to know through this blog. Content online can reach unforeseen places and open many doors you could not reach in person. Without thorough research and planning, legwork in the field can waste a lot of time and energy. Better to leverage accessible platforms to make introductions and accelerate connections.

All that said, the internet is only a two-dimensional version of networking. Like a movie poster, it can only tease real relationship building. Introductions online should precede introductions in person to close the feedback loop and formalize interpersonal relationships. Only then can relationships have human stakes. With human stakes in tow, relationships hold richer value not easily replicated by applications or hardware.

Networking takes work. With or without the legwork, connections take a lot of time and energy to build and maintain. Make an impression online, follow through with connections, stay in touch with people from your past and spend time building relationships offline. It’s worth it. Trust me.

Yes or No Questions

People do not like too many choices and procrastinate making decisions. Even the most opinionated people I know do not always answer your question in a timely fashion.

The easiest way to get a response? Make your question as easy as possible to answer. Don’t bury it with information, encrypt it in an email or forget the question mark. Provide a concise brief upfront and ask a yes or no question. Make it a multiple choice question if you need to. At the very least, provide the recipient with possible answers so he or she does not need to do the research or draft an elaborate answer of his or her own. Take the opportunity to curtail the list of possible answers to meet your own needs. If the recipient comes up with an answer other than the ones provided, whatever. At least you got an answer.

Busy people (like CEOs and celebrities) are notorious for single-line emails. Help them keep that pace and not bog them down with answering your question. The more you help them and consider their time, the easier it will be to get an answer – and the greater chances you will have at getting an answer you like.

Put Yourself Out There

If you’re not meeting new people in new places, you’re not testing yourself or your character. You’re sure as hell not networking. Packed bars, group outings, random parties and networking mixers are all perfect places to practice your elevator pitch about yourself or projects in a fairly consequence-free environment. Without practice, there’s really no way to know if you’re actually connecting with people. These loud and impersonal events are not great for building intimate relationships with other people, but they are great for getting to know yourself. The next time you’re invited to a gathering and have nothing to do, get out of the house and go. Mix it up, try a couple different methods for introducing yourself. Take notes afterwards on what worked and what didn’t. You might learn a thing or two about your pitch, your idea or yourself.

Reputation Counts

It never hurts to have a team of people on standby to support or validate you. Recommendations, trust and loyalty go a very long way. When it comes to leadership, it does matter what other people think. You may never shake hands on a deal with someone you do not know if naysayers stand between you. Good luck even making it in the door. On the other hand, passionate introductions from a handful of reputable people will secure you meetings and may even tie the knot for you. Connections are worth their weight in gold.

Work hard, lend a hand, expect nothing, respect everyone and love what you do. Reputation will follow.

Call People With Your Phone (That’s What It’s There For)

Random calls work like magic. Through cold-calling old friends in an effort to “stay in touch,” I’ve discovered great collaborators, learned things I could never imagine, and been offered jobs. Keeping your network fresh is important. And it’s really easy to do when you find yourself bored, commuting, or waiting for laundry. Just pick up your phone. Skim through your contacts. Pick someone you have not spoken to in a while. Call the person. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Think you need a reason to call someone? “Catching up” is a perfect reason to call someone. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: stay in touch.

Involve Your Audience

Building an audience can be a long and humbling process. Extreme networking in disguise. Every little thing counts. Every smile, every gift, every anecdote. It all builds to a greater public image with richer public value. As if offering something of value isn’t hard enough, you must befriend hundreds of thousands of random strangers along the way.

Successful performers form an intimate relationship with their audience. Like building trust with a friend, an entertainer must build rapport and loyalty with his or her fans. Something as big as inviting a fan to guest star or as small as retweeting a post can win you a fan for life. Even little acknowledgements can make a person’s day. Invite fans to be a part of what you’re trying to accomplish. Encourage them to join the conversation – and be sure to respond. Never be too proud to ask your audience questions, for feedback, or to help you out. Encourage a two-way street between you and them – and hold up your end of the bargain.

Inventory Your Relationships

When I say, ‘Inventory your relationships,’ I don’t mean, ‘Treat your friends like retail products on a stocking shelf.’ I mean, ‘Keep tabs on everyone in your network.’

Like reviewing notes taken in class, study your mobile contacts list, address book, or friends list. Take note of the people you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you find yourself curious about or missing updated information on a contact, you should reach out to him or her and catch up. Send a note, invite for coffee, arrange a phone or video call – whatever you find comfortable. Learn what keeps your friends busy, where their talents lie, what interests they have, and where they want to go next. Catch up, offer help if you can, and take notes to update your rolodex. Promise to stay in touch.

Never rule anyone out; people can change. Some of the shady characters in high school may have sobered up to start multi-million dollar businesses. You never know. You will be surprised what happens when you reach out to old relationships, especially the ones you were never close with before. You might uncover a great opportunity, discover a shared interest, or find romance. All three have happened to me. Partnerships of all kinds form out of rebooting network connections.

Recycling old relationships can be far easier than meeting new people because you already share common ground. I would even argue that keeping your network fresh by staying in touch is equally as important as growing your network, if not more so. As I have said before, it’s not about who you know, but who knows you. It is important that your contacts remember you. Stay fresh in other people’s minds, keep them fresh in yours, and keep your network strong.

It all starts by skimming your phone during downtime. Stay in touch.

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Real People, Real Conversations

The two most common icebreaker questions in Los Angeles are “where are you from” and “what do you do (for a living)?” Understandable, because few people actually grew up here and most relocated for their industry. A quick, cordial method to find common ground (if any) or extract details enough to build a full conversation.

The problem? These questions assume that work or geographical heritage define a person’s individuality. While some levels of personality and culture can be inferred, there is so much more to a person than his or her job or hometown. Furthermore, with jobs being the core topic (because jobs are more current and relevant than where you grew up), conversations tend to become networking events. Work sneaks out of the office and slips into your Saturday night cocktail.

I cannot argue the value of building professional relationships, but oftentimes adults forget that it is important to have other types of relationships as well. I find it extremely difficult to meet new people in Los Angeles. Worse, I find it impossible to develop relationships with people outside the film industry. I blame a lot of it on these icebreaker questions. “Oh, we’re not in the same industry? We cannot work together, so, I guess … have a good night!? Nevermind that there are so many other levels we can connect on!”

My best friends here can carry on conversations about things other than work and the movies. Makes a big difference when you’ve been on film sets all day and need a mental break. And it makes a big difference when you need to feel like a human being, rather than a workaholic robot. Science, discovery, politics, love, perspective, health, the world, philosophy … the list is endless.

Every conversation does not need to be a networking event. Try to steer your meet and greets away from conventional topics. Pay close attention to people who bring more to the table than their resume.