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How to network from scratch even if you think you have nothing to offer

(Editorial) Whether you’re new to a space or just a first time conference goer, it can be intimidating to get around the room, but with these unique tips, you’ll master any room.



Professional networking tips that are actually helpful

Professional networking events are often underutilized because most of us head into an event or a conference, huddle in a corner with our known people, throw a few business cards around, then run back to the corner and probably get a little tipsy. It’s pretty ineffective for most people, and often a wasted opportunity. But it doesn’t have to be.

Matt Winters’ editorial here on AG offers endless tips on networking and getting the most out of these events, and it’s a great place to get your feet wet, whether you’re a novice networker or a seasoned card passer-outer.

But one topic we haven’t yet broached is how to network when you don’t think you have anything to offer. The truth is that many of us feel this way when we walk into a room of strangers – it can be intimidating, even for the most outgoing, well connected people on the planet.

Chris Johnson, Co-Founder of Simplifilm and Founder of our favorite new blog, Hustle And Close, recently wrote on this very topic in depth, offering unique insight into why everyone has something to offer and how you can better prepare.

How to network from scratch

We encourage you to read Johnson’s full editorial below:

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We all start at zero at various times in our lives.

We may have changed jobs.  Spouses.  Lost friends. Moved.

We may have to find our way in a new industry.

This has happened before and it will happen again.  When it happens, we might be broke, we might not have anything valuable to bring to the table.

That’s OK.  What we have is resourcefulness, energy, empathy and hustle.

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Let’s say you’re dropped in a 3-day conference amongst strangers. And let’s say you don’t know anyone, and everyone is having a good time and telling jokes like old friends.  The circles of conversation are closed and nobody knows you.  What do you do next?

Here are 5 ideas to carry with you when networking.

Idea #1: Use Gestures of Empathy

What are people afraid of?  Getting buttonholed into a long-winded sales pitch.

Having to hear boring stories.  Not connecting with the right people.  When the conference has gone on a long time, people are a little warn out from the grind.

Dispel their fears and lead with  a gesture of empathy. How do you do this?

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Easy.  Just address the thoughts here, make eye contact, and signal that you are already an ally.

A sample intro – between me and Steve.

Steve: “I’m  Steve- from Acme Widgets”
Me: “I’m Chris Johnson – from Simplifilm.  Hey, just wanted to let you know that you are always welcome to join in a conversation with me and anyone I might be around.  I’ll be meeting tons of people, but I’ll be happy to introduce you.”
Steve: “Wow, that sounds great, thanks.”

After this point, follow up is optional.

Now notice: I didn’t buy Steve’s lunch, I didn’t over-promise anything. I just let Steve know I was here to help and happy to do so. That instant gesture- that I’m an ally – broke the tension.

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(This may take rehearsal).

Idea #2: Create a Small Posse

My good friend Chase calls these the Third Tier concepts. Acquire allies. Make lifelong friends.

At a recent event, I met up with two people  (Matt and Mindy at Winning Edits) who were aligned with my goals: we both wanted to help authors and we both wanted to accomplish some high-velocity networking.  We shared a few meals together, we shared some stories, goals,  we shared a hike together, and we worked very hard to help each other over the weekend.

We were strangers before the event, and I am betting we’ll be lifelong friends.

How did this happen?  Well, we were introduced by a mutual contact (one that I had just met at the event). We met at small gathering of people, so there was some common ground.  When I learned we had a lot of shared goals and a lot of people in our personal venn diagrams that would benefit each other, I made the call to adopt them.  The three of us spent a ton of time together (and a lot of time apart) and made intros to all the people we met together.

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Because I had allies everywhere I was able to confidently segue between meeting new people, and adding depth.  I met other folks at the event, had other rich and probably permanent connections, too, but if all I had done was to meet them?  Event was a success.

We never made a pact–we just started sharing energy to help one another early on.  The momentum carried forward.

Idea #3: Focus on Velocity Balance

You have to meet a lot of people to find the right people.

This means: you have to kiss a lot of frogs…

Covering enough ground is vital  because each individual – while completely valuable – is only  slightly likely to be the magical contact that can change your life. So, instead of stagnating with one person, you have to branch out.  Here are some ways to do that:

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  • Everyone you meet should be told they are ‘always welcome to say hi (this gets to #4- graceful exits).’
  • Any time you have a meal, have at least one stranger there.
  • Any time there is a natural break, make 3 introductions.

Each person is also looking for their “right people” so they will benefit from this.

Idea #4: Have A Graceful & Grateful Exit Framework Rehearsed

People want to move on.  They’ll be thankful for it.  They know what’s going on in a networking event.

So if you practice any script, the one you need is the graceful exit. You hope to leave people with a great feeling, and a graceful exit can do that.

Here’s the basic framework:

  • Thank them, acknowledge them, make them feel great.  Vicky does a great job here.
  • Give permission to follow up later.  I do this by inviting them to talk to me later.
  • Tell them you’re happy to do specific favors down the road (and mean it).

Here’s an exit: “Hey, Shelly, it was fantastic meeting you.  I’m going to go over and talk to my friend Matt, but I’d love to stay in touch after the event.  Can I get your email (take out phone).  Super.  Let me know if I can help in any way- and thanks for taking the time to talk to me- glad to have a new friend!”

They will be free to leave, happy they met you, and feel warm. This takes practice.

Idea #5: Signal Long Term, Helpful Intentions

We are here to benefit other people, to help, and to be helped.  We have to signal that we’re real allies, not summer soldiers.

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So, there are some ways to do that, and the easiest one is to ask them what they need.

Questions like:

  • Who is a good fit for you?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • How could I help?
  • What connections would make things better?

Are signals.  They are markers of who you are.  They are more effective at selling than a sales pitch. Sure, an elevator speech could be useful in some instances, but a lifelong friend will pay for itself many times over.

Signals of being helpful, being able to be around. They aren’t “talking about ourselves.”  They questions about the other person’s goals, and having asked them normally and naturally will increase the likelihood that someone works with you.

Go Forth, and Multiply<

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.”
-Quote attributed to many people on the internet, first heard from A.J. Jacobs.

Taken together, these five ideas will create your basic framework to build a network from scratch.  They minimize the risk of rejection. They maximize the rest, and it’s a very ambivert like philosophy.  Have the hustle of an extrovert with the care for others that an introvert has.

When you network with empathy and gratitude, you will win way faster than you could otherwise.

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So do it.

This post originally appeared on, comments may be found there.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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