Networking — this is how I began my business, and it is the fastest route to building a sustainable practice.
In my first year as an advisor, I looked past social media and the internet to tear through the networking circuit with reckless abandon. Night in and night out, I would attend networking functions, typically sponsored by a local chamber of commerce. Attendees would show up to mix and mingle, with the main goal of handing out and collecting as many business cards as possible.
My new friends were either unemployed, freshly laid off, looking for a job or starting a brand new business. At the end of the day, we were all people who needed a lot of help. You could call this our industry’s version of speed dating.
Networking’s purpose is this: proximity to power is empowerment. I forced my way into circles of the proverbial movers and shakers. These guys played golf and hung out at political gatherings, charity benefits and award galas. I befriended the “connector” — that bigwig that people gravitated toward.
While I may have only been 22 years old and looked more like 16 years old, a few principles were instrumental at such social occasions:
- “The Book of Samurai” by Yamamoto Tsunetomo says, “Meet even those you know in a first time manner and you shall have no bad relationships. When guests are leaving, the mood of being reluctant to say farewell is essential.”
- Build reciprocity. Most recent grads will only have a few connections, so be prepared to give before you get.
- Be prepared. Mistakes may be excused, but being unprepared is never one of them. Running late, forgetting your tie, a poor presentation — all are forbidden. When I purchase the $100 ticket to attend the latest hoopla, I make it a point to familiarize myself with as many attendees before I showed up, typically through online espionage. (For further instruction, watch the scene from "Wedding Crashers" where Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn pose as a maple syrup conglomerate to fit in with the elegant crowd.)
- Stay current. A reputed expert cannot afford to be baffled by a common question in front of new acquaintances. I always tell our new class of agents to listen to Bloomberg radio on the way to the appointment; you can blast Taylor Swift on the way home.
- Keep in touch. Mark Granovetter argues in his 1974 book “Getting a Job”, that acquaintances are more important than friends, because it is those weak ties that can introduce to us new crowds. After all, our friends occupy only the same world we do.
- Your bridges — do NOT burn them. Don’t ever screw anyone on the way up, because you’ll never know when you need them on the way down.
- Take charge. In 1727, a 21-year-old printer from Philadelphia named Ben was looking to get his name out there and meet the right people. He formed a club called the Junto, a forum to debate questions of morals, politics, philosophy, and more. The idea was to create a self-improvement group with a representative from each different profession in town. These men met every Friday night and quickly expanded the group. Benjamin Franklin wanted to make a change, so he became a leader. And the rest is American history.
These are a few of the fundamentals you must take with you.
Life is nothing more than a series of uncontrollable coincidences. But your reactions and decisions are what shape life. Had you stayed in that night rather than hit the bar with your pals, would you have bumped into that girl when you screamed at the Giants touchdown? Would you have exchanged numbers after she made fun of you? Would you have introduced her friend to your brother who then married her?
We never know who knows whom and how things will turn out. So start networking now and watch your practice blossom.
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