Professional networking events are terrible.
There, I said it.
Don’t be ashamed if you feel the same way. I felt it myself when I first moved to the Bay Area. And I hear it from many of my friends who work in Tech.
A little under 5 months ago, I moved from New York to San Francisco. I knew only 1 person, so I hit the networking circuit to meet friends and break into the Tech scene. The results after 2 months of nightly professional networking?
0 new friends. Still an outsider in the SF Tech scene.
I have one piece of advice, learned the hard way, for anyone new to a city that’s building a network: avoid tech meetups.
1. Skip Startup Events and Meetups
Let me share the ugly realities of startup events, then we can discuss some alternatives:
- Standing alone at an event is weird and uncomfortable
- Breaking into a group of people to introduce yourself is even worse
- You only have 30 seconds to talk with VIPs
- Dragging yourself to an event after a long day of work is no fun
- How much pizza and stale platter vegetables can one tolerate?
Fortunately, if you are set on attending startup events, all of these problems have fixes.
You can bring a friend from work along with you. You can avoid groups of people, and start conversations with individuals standing on the outskirts of conversations. You can attend early morning meetups. You can even grab a quick bite to eat on the way to an event, so you aren’t subjected to the same food night after night.
Instead of finding small ways to improve the process, I decided to try something completely different.
At Mattermark, I run week-long tests across multiple channels to find repeatable, scalable ways of acquiring new customers. When a test fails, I kill the experiment, and run a new test elsewhere. Fail fast, learn, onward.
My after-hours networking test had failed for 2 consecutive months, but I refused to do anything about it. I expected things would change after a month of overcoming my initial shyness, but 2 months in, I hadn’t noticed an improvement.
I finally had enough, so I took a page out of my work playbook.
Then, everything changed.
In the past few months, I’ve assembled the early building blocks for a network that wouldn’t have formed through networking events.
Experiment with Networking Tactics
If you‘re unhappy after every meetup you attend, it’s time to try something new. For me, a combination of the following tactics have been both effective and enjoyable.
2. Send Targeted Emails
I’m a B2B marketer at a high-growth startup on weekdays. I want to be a great marketer, and that means I need to surround myself with great people who are better than me. I attended a few Marketing Tech events, but they attracted people new to marketing, or people who wanted to break into the startup scene.
Now, I have an alternative to attending events:
- I look for growing companies that have B2B marketers
- Find specific people at the companies
- Email them
Today, I don’t depend on luck to meet people at a random event. I drop notes to specific people with whom I want to speak, and if they respond, I’m one step closer to meeting a new friend.
3. Find a Referral
This is my favorite tactic. If there’s a new skill I need to learn (like building a team), I look for people that my CEO is connected to, and ask her if she wouldn’t mind making an introduction.
More often than not, she’s happy to, and the recipient of the email is quick to respond.
Thanks to a few quick introductions from Danielle, I’m building meaningful relationships with people who would only give me 30 seconds if I were meeting them cold at a startup event.
4. Create Valuable Content
I cannot overstate the value of Twitter.
During a 1:1 last week, my boss reiterated the importance of developing my voice. “Plant seeds now, and build a platform for yourself.”
It will take years to get there, but I write every day to refine my voice and create content that creates values for others. That content typically takes the form of blog posts, that I wind up sharing on Twitter.
If it’s a good piece of content, it will start a conversation. Instead of chasing someone down at event to give them your business card, you have the luxury of people coming to you. And unlike an event, where conversations are forced and connections are superficial, you are able to create legitimate friendships.
5. Attend Non-Tech Meetups
I mentioned friendships earlier. This is the key to networking.
If you attend startup events just to collect business cards, your network will decay quickly. By the time you get home from an event, you will have either lost all the cards you collected, or decided that you don’t want to follow up with anyone.
Instead of going to startup events with the express purpose of meeting people in the industry, go to a non-tech meetup with the express purpose of enjoying yourself.
You won’t be uncomfortable the way you are at a professional networking event. You will be yourself, and meet people with similar interests, who just happen to work in Tech, or who have friends in the space. Since you actually enjoy these people, and aren’t just introducing yourself to grab a business card, the chances of you making a legitimate connection increase.
Those are the types of connections that will help you make new *friends* in Tech.