Caption: Carlo Cisco with guests at a Select Networking Event. Image Credit: Wendy Ploger
If you’re at a networking event, it means you’re looking for something. Maybe it’s a job, or a lead; maybe you’re looking to build relationships that will lead to referrals. Occasionally you may attend to get advice from those more experienced than you, or to check out the young blood entering your industry.
You may have walked out of a networking event feeling that it was a waste of time. Or you may be considering writing off networking in general as just another way that executives waste time and excuse alcohol on their corporate card. I’ve certainly met many who feel this way.
But networking, when done right, can mean the world of difference in your business. Just ask Carlo Cisco, founder of SELECT, the benefits program that turns any credit card you already have into a networking catalyst. As an entrepreneur who founded a successful company based around facilitating networking, he’s basically the king of the topic.
Here are his three best tips for learning how to network like a boss:
#1 Always Be Friendly, Always Be Ready
“An acquaintance that came to speak at my university had recently left a job with HIG Capital and put his own startup aspirations on hold to join Groupon. I congratulated him on the change, and it sparked a conversation,” said Cisco. “That chat led to him introducing me to executives, followed by a series of interviews, which quickly led to moving to Japan to help build a regional Groupon presence. This experience completely changed the trajectory of my career. Having the opportunity to manage and help manage so many different areas of at the time, the fastest growing company in history, gave me undeniable credibility and expanded domain expertise.”
You really never know who is going to be a great connection. Even if they’re in a completely different industry, there’s a possibility that they’re the friend or relative—or their spouse is the friend or relative—of someone who could change your life for the better.
So always put your best face forward, speak about yourself with pride, be courteous and genuine, and don’t write off new people because they don’t initially fit your description of a useful connection. What’s the worst that can happen?
#2 The Goal Is to Form Real Relationships
I’ve seen many people who lose the forest for the trees when it comes to networking—that is, they focus so hard on making as many connections as possible but never bother growing those budding relationships.
“One of our first informal advisers, Lorenzo Thione, has become an investor and resource,” said Cisco. “When we first met, I wasn’t sure how long our relationship would look like, but I made sure to put my best foot forward and present Select in the best possible light. But that’s how it always starts out—as an introduction. You never know who is going to end up being integral to your success.”
#3 Go To a Variety of Events—But Not Every Event
“There are so many options for networking events, but you need to look at the ones where the attendees are curated and relevant to you. Something I see a lot is that entrepreneurs focus on startup events, almost exclusively, because they feel a bit out of place among more corporate professionals,” Cisco explained. “While it’s important to have a network of fellow entrepreneurs you also need a network of people that are in other industries that could become pivotal connections for partnerships and growing your business.”
So yes, go to the fun networking event that is full of people just like you – you’ll have the chance to form a great support group of like minded individuals. But don’t write off the industry conference because you feel out of place, or are worried no one will want to talk to you! You’ll be surprised how many established firms are excited to meet the new people in industries they work with. You’ll also be able to ask for valuable advice from the customers you hope to one day be able to attract. Think of it as the networking equivalent of ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have.’
If you follow these three tips, you’ll be sure to make a great impression every time and form lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. And who knows, you might just find your co-founder for the company you haven’t thought of yet.