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The best networking tip I’ve ever gotten in my life

The best networking tip ever came from the most boring networking event in history, and changed how I received referrals forever.


Chinese throwing stars, knives, singing, and networking

I went to a networking event 10 years ago and was bored out of my mind. There were speakers that droned on about industry stuff and overdressed professionals with stacks of business cards in their hands like Chinese throwing stars I knew were about to be thrown at my face, whether I liked it or not.

These professional networking ninjas were intimidating to this fresh-faced college graduate, I mean, they had on pantyhose and blazers in the Texas heat – these people weren’t playing around. After the speakers finally ceased, we said like the Pledge of Allegiance, sung happy birthday to someone, and did the drawing for a set of knives (notice a theme?), it was time to network.

You’d think a bloody turkey leg had just been thrown into an overcrowded pond of piranhas – the frenzy was on. Shallow platitudes were passed, “hello, my name is Debbie and I am an insurance agent. Here are 14 copies of my card, please send my information along to your friends and family and I’m never to busy for referrals, and now I have to go give 20 copies to that prospect over there who looks like they might send me more business than you, byeeee!”

It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I was in grown up land, so I had to act like it, even if I refused to wear pantyhose.

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Back when I sucked at networking

I met a “professional networker,” whatever that means. He gave a brief introduction of himself and offered me a card. I dug through my purse to find my card as I told him that (remember, this was a former life) I was in multi-family property management. Then, he asked me what kind of referrals I prefer.

“People looking for an apartment?”

He asked me to be more specific. “People looking for an apartment that aren’t criminals and can afford more than $X per month?”

I was being coached. I could tell. He said, “I will keep that in mind in case I come across someone like that. I make most of my money from public speaking, so if your company is ever looking for someone to keynote at their corporate meetings or you hear of an opportunity in the multi-family industry, that is my favorite type of referral.”

Then, he said, “if you can think of a specific type of prospect you’d like referred to you, you have my email.”

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Well, thoughts of Fair Housing laws swirled through my mind. I can’t say “yeah, please send me native Texans who love Jesus and have a fat bank account and skinny butt.” That’s not right.

And here is the best networking tip ever

But it got me to thinking. I could say that many of our residents tend to be people relocating to Austin, often involved in technologies like semiconducting, so if he hears of anyone about to move to town, that’s a slam dunk for me, or if he has any great HR connections at semiconductors, I’d like to connect with them so I can make a deal with their relos.

The best networking tip I’ve ever gotten in my life was indirect, but it was that I needed to be specific about what type of referrals I prefer – to this day, I know that this guy wanted to keynote or speak at multi-family events, a very specific niche. It was a concise description that planted a specific memory in my mind – had he said, “I’m a public speaker,” I would have filed that under “okay, who cares?”

When networking, do more than stalk people like a ninja with a stack of cards – nail your pitch and more specifically, be able to tell people exactly what kind of referrals you love.

“I’m a Realtor who loves working with first time buyers considering living on the north side” is much more actionable than “I’m a Realtor.” “I am a dog groomer and specialize in long hair dogs which are tricky” is much more actionable than “I’m a dog groomer. “I sell insurance” is easy to file under “doesn’t everyone?” but “I love connecting entrepreneurs with affordable business insurance” is much more intriguing.

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Give people somewhere to mentally file your skills and there is a higher obligation level for people to refer – our brains are wired to make connections, so make the connection for them!

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Me

    August 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Small typo in the above “and I’m never to busy for referrals” should be “too” not “to”.

  2. halffiction

    August 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Great advice. When I ran networking events for ad professionals, there was this guy I called “Old Orange Man” an old copywriter desperate for work. He would literally come to my events and paper everyone with his orange business cards. “Take my card!” he’d say, not even saying who he was or what he did. Often he’d hit more than one event in a night if he could. One thing I learned, it’s better to receive than to give when dealing with business cards. I follow up with people – always. Giving someone my beautiful business card? I try not to waste the paper.

  3. rolandestrada

    August 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Great post. As I’ve been driving my tail off lately way out of my area, I started to think I could make a great living just focusing my attention to just one or two cities near my office instead an entire county. As they say “Work smarter, not harder”.

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