Tips on Networking from 125 years ago

As a networker, your goal is to establish contacts with people who you don’t yet know, as well as maintain and grow relationships with people you’ve already met, in the hopes that in the future you may be able to do business with them. Although it certainly depends on the openness of the network that you’re trying to break into, I’ve personally found that, to borrow a Japanese phrase, “just showing your face,” can often be enough to make the connections you need.

All it takes takes is a little repetition:
The first time, people don’t even see you.
The second time, they don’t notice you.
The third time, they are aware that you are there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen you somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually have a short conversation with you.
The sixth time they ignore you intentionally.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with you.
The eighth time, they start to think, “There’s that person again.”
The ninth time, they start to wonder if you might be someone important.
The tenth time, they ask their colleagues and friends about you.
The eleventh time, they wonder if you’re really as “amazing” as people say you are.
The twelfth time, they start to think that you must be good at what you do.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel you have value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting to work with someone like you for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to mention you on twitter and connect with you on linkedIn and facebook.
The sixteenth time, they start to think that they may work with you sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they invite you out for coffee to discuss ways you could work together.
The eighteenth time, they curse bad timing for keeping them from working with someone as awesome as you.
The nineteenth time, they make deliberate plans to hire you/fund your company/make you a co-founder.
The twentieth time…you’re working together.

If you feel like you’ve read this somewhere before, you probably have. This guide is actually based on a guide on advertising written more than a hundred years ago by a London businessman named Thomas Smith. Smith’s guide was about product advertising, and though some might object to my comparing advertising to making personal connections, the similarities are striking. So striking in fact, that it took me less than five minutes to adapt Smith’s guide on advertising to produce one on networking.

The great thing about networking today is that the Internet, the blogopshere, and various social networking sites can do a lot to accelerate the twenty-step process mentioned above. “Showing your face” in person is ideal, but “showing your face” on twitter, facebook and in RSS feeds isn’t so bad either. It ‘s these cheap and versatile technologies that allow you to “advertise” yourself through multiple channels when in the past only large corporations had the resources to do so.

Multiple channels is key, because it’s not just about maximizing your exposure to a certain network of people; it’s also about maximizing the variety of channels through which they are exposed to you. Just as Google search results tend to favor websites with links coming from a wide variety of other websites, people tend to have a higher opinion of another person when that person’s “social mentions” come from a wider variety of sources. In other words, it’s better for you to have three good mentions coming from three separate sources (e.g. one positive mention each from a family member, a coworker, and a client) than for you to have five recommendations from five similar sources (e.g. five mentions from five family members). It’s not enough that you have some positive recommendations on your LinkedIn profile.  After all, anyone can stuff their LinkedIn profile with recommendations from their bestest buds at work. But, if you also have positive mentions within a certain audience on twitter and some random person I meet at a party says something good about you, my opinion of you would become much more favorable than if your mentions only came from one source.

While showing up often, and showing up in as many different places as possible is, to borrow a phrase from Woody Allen, “80 percent of success,” It’s important to understand that all networking efforts would be worthless without that other 20 percent: doing good work. In the end, all the advertising in the world won’t help sell a product if the product itself happens to suck.

My consistent appearances at tech and startup events was useful in that it got people to talk/ask about me when I wasn’t there. Because I showed my face often, people were curious enough about me to ask my friends and coworkers about who I was and about the kind of work that I did. Luckily for me people had good things to say, because in the two and a half months that I was unemployed I had steady stream of job prospects coming my way. In fact, I recently landed a community manager gig with the Seattle based startup eVenues,  an online marketplace for meeting rooms and event spaces. They’ve got a pretty respectable list of meeting rooms in Seattle and on the West coast. I didn’t even send the guys my resume.

How are you “showing up?”

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  • That is a striking resemblance between advertising and marketing oneself. I am sold and now that you made me think about it, I can see there were people I know quite well today, who started off on a similar path in out initial acquaintances…

  • Richard Bachner

    I like Thomas Smith’s idea, just there’s a cost issue associated with getting an ad in front of people quite so many times. I would rather focus on more emotional and effective ads that impact people with one viewing: that is the ideal. I think that the idea of maximizing the number of channels and the number of ways that people get exposed to you is still valuable in the internet age because you can see what is the most effective through analytics and statistics. Each type of site that you have and each type of business works best through different types of media. If you can calculate the effectiveness of each channel and measure what has the greatest ROI you should be able to maximize your resources which is particularly critical in a down economy. Right now a lot of businesses are focusing on promoting through socal media through any of the dozens of companies listed BuyFacebookFansReviews but there are multiple other avenues to reach out to people that are also relatively low cost. If you have skill as a writer, reaching out to bloggers and offering a guest post can be big. Certainly reaching out to various online media can be effective if you work at it. Search ads are going to continue to be popular for the future. If you can do all that and measure what is most effective, you can focus in on what works in any given context in the long run and this is where real value lies. Old style media like TV and print are also valuable despite their cost, its just harder to measure the return on that.

  • Sounds like a very interesting, and effective tips. I especially liked the way you have put down. I think your readers may appreciate this related blog.

  • Thankfully social media and new tools have made getting to that “20 time” a LOT quicker and more efficient. Or I wouldn’t be able to handle all that networking! 🙂

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  • Ethan

    This is a good article. Especially like the part about showing up. I’ve always thought that the most successful people aren’t necessarily the smartest. They’re simply the ones who decided to show up.

    Another good tip for networking events is to ask an intelligent question during the Q and A session at the end of a live speaker/panel. It’s kind of like a real world equivalent of leaving a comment on a blog 🙂

    I just wrote a blog post the other day on networking tips for the socially awkward. You might like it:

  • Very interesting take indeed. Particularly for folks who are not naturally extroverts. This helps make a point about perseverance (repetition) in networking just like if you are starting your own company.

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  • Once people know that the minute they walk out the door, or venture out onto the internet we are marketing ourselves as ideal connections for x,y and z, the better.

    I realize this can seem daunting to get 20 interactions with individuals. But now that we are 12 years in the future, every interaction (email, phone, webinar, blog post, etc) can count a touch point.

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  • This is why you never stray from the basics, ever. No matter how advanced technology and different marketing strategies get, they’re all built off the basics. Wow, I can’t believe this guide was written over 100 years ago.

  • Kenji, just followed this link from Small Business Trends and what you wrote resonates so well that I can almost say, ‘I’ve been there’ as I’m reading the 20 times list. I guess, traditional networking, when combined with social-digital networking, can yield better results. To answer your question, I’ll be one of the presenters for this power-class event in Tucson for real estate professionals wanting to learn social media – one of my first.