Networking Tips from Carter Thomas
On a recent interview for Entrepreneur on Fire, I was asked, “What’s the best advice you ever received?” Over the last few days, I’ve received a lot of emails and Twitter responses asking to elaborate on this advice.
My response was a quick anecdote about being introduced to an insurance salesman who proceeded to spend 60 minutes of his time schooling me in the art of building a network. Little did I know that this was one of the most powerful hours of my life.
Like many of you, one of the hardest obstacles I faced as a new entrepreneur was growth and getting new business. As an internet marketer at heart, I was used to being able to site behind a screen and “attract” leads via SEO, social media, paid traffic and others. Whenever I read an article about how powerful networking was, I casually dismissed it.
“Yeah, that’s not really my thing,” I would say to myself. It can be uncomfortable to step out of our “natural” state and reach out to people.
I was building a business that required clients, specifically DUI lawyers. I finally gave into the advice of many and started taking lunches around town.
Nothing could have prepared me for the tidal wave of business that was about to come my way.
Learn More In One Hour Than I Did In Four Years Of College
Here’s what I thought networking was:
- Email friends, family and business acquaintances
- Meet with them
- Tell each other what you’re up to
- Use words like “finding synergies” and “solutions”
- Leave with each other’s business card
I am here to tell you…that is a WASTE OF EVERYONE’S TIME. If you’re doing that, stop it.
When I got on the phone with this insurance guy (Let’s call him Clyde), he told me the story of how he became the top sales guy in one of the biggest insurance companies in the country in under 10 years. He was about 55 years old and was making $2-3M a year on passive income – the only reason he was still working is because it was fun to him.
“WTF?” I thought. As a 25 year old who could barely make $1,000/mo working 90 hour weeks, I immediately knew I was doing something wrong.
After he told me his story, he explained HOW he did it.
“Carter, what I’m about to tell you is not complicated, but it’s not easy. You must work at it. And you must trust the process.” He was very adamant about this. “The ability to grow a network is the #1 most powerful move you can make.”
He walked through his process. Needless to say, I was floored.
A Networking Process To Explode A Business
30 minutes later, I had a good grasp on it. Here’s what the advice/process was:
- Start with someone you know – friend, family, anyone. The closer they are to the “ideal client” the better. For example, if my cousin was a lawyer, I should start with him vs my aunt who was a 1st grade teachers.
- This meeting can be pretty casual. At the end, ask for a few introductions.
- THEN YOU GET INTRODUCED TO SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW AND WANT FOR YOUR BUSINESS. This is where it gets interesting.
- Before you walk into that meeting, you must:
- Research the person you are meeting with. What’s their business? What problems do they have? Who do they know? Where did they go to school?
- Determine the most valuable information you can give them in your meeting. Often I would give people free website and marketing advice.
- Determine (as much as you can) the exact people you want them to introduce to you after the meeting. LinkedIN is good for this, or finding out trade groups they’re in, friends they have, etc.
- Get clothes so that you can dress like the person they want you to be. You can call this selling out or being fake – it’s basic psychology. I don’t like wearing collared shirts and slacks…but lawyers did. So I wore it all the time when I was having meetings.
- Once you get to the meeting, be very clear about why you are there and what your goals are. DO NOT waste anyone’s time. They have enough friends. They assume you do too.
- I would say things like “Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time. [3 minutes of pleasantries and ordering coffee]. The reason I asked you here is to explain what I am doing with my business, to show you a few ways you can easily improve your business, and to grow my network.” BAM. Stop. Shut up.
- You start talking about very quickly explain what you are doing.
- “I’m currently building websites and marketing solutions for lawyers, specifically in the DUI field. I am becoming very knowledgable for this exact practice and offer killer website, email, paid search and blogging services that make the phone ring more often. My business is more white-glove and high level customer service you won’t get from other national firms.”
- NOTE: (1) Explain who I am targeting (2) What I do for them and the benefit of them hiring me (3) What makes me unique
- You ask them what their biggest problem is in business. 95% of the time it was “I want more clients.”
- I tell them the free information I did from researching before, showing exactly how they can do it, how it is easy to do, and how it will drive many more leads.
- I take it a step further and say that I will write this all up in an email and send it over so that they can send it to their marketing team or hire someone (sometimes me) to execute it.
- By this point (15-20 mins in) I tell them who my EXACT targets are.
- “I want to work with DUI lawyers in Maine and the Northeast with 1-5 partners. My best clients are people who understand marketing basics but want someone to take it to the next level, along with people that have had lackluster experiences with the national firms.”
- Then I ask them point blank WHO they know that’s like that
- “Do you know anyone who fits these criteria that you would be willing to introduce me to?”
- They ALWAYS say Yes
- Then I say “I noticed you’re connected to Person X on LinkedIN (assuming they didn’t say this person’s name). Would you mind introducing me to them?”
- They USUALLY say Yes
- Then I say “Great. I will follow up with an email and write a few sentences you can copy/paste for the introduction email. That way it’s no work for you and all information is easily sent over.”
- They say “That sounds great.”
- Later that day or the next day, I send over thank you note + sentences to copy/paste
- I get 2-3 new hot leads
- I go out to lunch with them
- I close them AND ask them for 2-3 MORE connections
- The process continues until I can’t handle the volume
This took me a while to get used to, but I also realized is that “confidence” is not as big of a deal in this situation.
What I mean is that this is formulaic – I just followed a plan. It wasn’t some Alpha dog pushing around the new kid on the block…it was just following a formula.
Of course the more you do it, the better it gets. But MAN was this effective!
Why This Works So Well
Now that you have an exact blueprint, let me explain WHY this works so well. It’s important to know the “why” because you’ll be able to craft it and perfect it to your own business.
Here are the psychological and social fundamentals that make this successful:
- Offer someone free, relevant, and actionable information that benefits them. People inherently feel a need to reciprocate. The more you offer, the more they’ll help you out.
- Leverage someone else’s creditability. There’s a reason why having someone else introduce you is more powerful than reaching out cold – you get ALL their creditability behind you.
- NOTE: This is the most powerful reason this strategy works.
- Remove the ability to say anything other than “Yes” or “No”. If I asked someone “Hey, what lawyers do you know in the area that are a good match?” then they need to think about it. This kills the flow – they’ll usually say they’ll get back to you. But if I say “Can you introduce me to X?” or “Do you know lawyers in the DUI space?” – those are almost always Yes answers.
- Make them look good. Bottom line is you need to know your shit and be good at what you do. You can’t sell yourself if you’re mediocre at something. BUT, if you are really good and provide an awesome service, this actually makes the person making the introduction look really good too. The new client would often go back to the guy I had lunch with and say “Hey, thanks for that introduction! Carter is doing great work for us! Let me know if I can ever help you out.” Talk about a win-win.
Do you see how this can be all positive? You’re making every single person’s life better.
How This Changed My Life
Without getting into specifics, this changed everything in my business when I was building websites. I actually had to stop for a while because it was getting so big.
In under 6 months I went from zero clients to 32, 5 of which were the biggest DUI firms in their relative states. I could have kept going…but I just didn’t have the bandwidth.
Even more importantly, I learned that this is NOT just about getting clients – it’s also about building relationships. As you get older and your business grows, you’ll realize that sometimes just knowing the right people is valuable. Having them owe you a favor is, quite literally, the most valuable thing in business.
When you talk to the top sales people at any company, they’ll tell you a similar story. Often they use CRM systems like Salesforce to manage this.
BUT, the difference in good sales people and GREAT sales people is in the planning – it’s understanding the person they’re sitting down with, having tons of value ready for them, and knowing what to ask for (and not being afraid to ask!).
Use This In Your Life
Seriously. Use it. Face to face meetings are always the best, but in this digital and global world it’s not always realistic.
A lot of these same principles can be accomplished via email, skype, phone, whatever.
For me, a lot of people think I just “walked into” a network because of my blog and being in San Francisco. It’s actually not the case – for about 6 months I would find every single person who I could and would email them lists of how they could make their websites/emails/businesses better. All free information. Nothing in return. I just helped as many people as I possibly could.
Then over the next year, I slowly saw those relationships come back to me 10x.
This is SO VERY possible. It’s a tried and true method and will work for years to come. Please use it and share your experience!