In this longish read I ask three awesome networkers from my own inner circle to share some of their secrets and to give their opinions on a few of the more controversial aspects of what makes a good networker.
The three are independent film maker and producer Rachel Rath, tech entrepreneur and Klipboard founder/CEO Draven McConville and serial CEO & business strategist Denise McQuaid. All three just happen to be Irish.
Read on if you want to start building your own network or if you just need a bit of validation that the time & effort you’re already putting into networking is going to generate a worthwhile long term return. You may wonder why I chose entrepreneurs and self starters & my rationale is that they’re more likely than most to recognise early doors that there’s no alternative to building a network. There are just too many moving parts involved in creating a successful business to do everything yourself and you just never know when you (or someone else) is going to need a bit of help.
We’ll start with Rachel Rath who has recently returned to Ireland after many years living in Los Angeles. Rachel is an actress, film maker, performance artist, screenwriter, director and comedian.
As a film maker you operate internationally. How do you go about building a network from scratch when you relocate to a brand new location?
I’ve lived in Dublin, London, Los Angeles and New York and every move feels like starting over. I find it best to hit the ground running by having coffees with anyone and everyone who will meet me. These contacts usually come recommended by my current network. It’s relatively easy to meet film industry people. I concentrate on attending film markets, festivals, arthouse cinemas and seminars. Sometimes it can be difficult in a new city to hear about good networking opportunities so I create Google Alerts for my niche in each city. If I read in the trades that I’ve missed out on an event that might have been good to attend, I’ll make a calendar entry to make sure that I’m there next year. If I have a dry spell and feel a bit out of touch I search for “film” on the local invite sites, such as Eventbrite or Facebook, and scroll through until I find what looks like a quality opportunity. Before attending a market/festival I will search tags on my social media feeds, e.g. #Sundance, to see if I’m linked with anyone attending and connect with them. I post on social media in advance that I’m going to be attending and that usually spurs connections introducing me to others going too. I also like to get involved in my local community – I sat on the international committee of Women In Film Los Angeles, the board of Irish Equity, founded The Attic Studio, an arts organisation in Dublin, and I currently work with Irish Screen America New York and Los Angeles, so I’m not afraid of hard work and getting stuck in to rallying people together. Each of these networks has kept me inspired and kept bread on my table.
A lot of people choose to make most of their networking effort with other people in the same line of business. Good or bad idea?
It’s easy to get caught up in the comfort of your own circles but variety is certainly best. It’s great to meet people from all walks of life to inspire you and align you with your target markets. You get to hear about projects from their point of view. I really believe in the idea that in life you look for your family, people that are great fun around the barbecue and that you may one day collaborate with. I find art gallery openings great. They are more relaxed and most people are there to appreciate fine surroundings and are more willing to chat. This year I met the most interesting person at an airport – he’s from Belfast and works for Tesco, but is an amateur local historian and was able to give me insight into a project that I’m working on that other official sources didn’t list.
I’ve heard even very sensible people say networking takes up too much time & effort. Is it worth it?
I understand this viewpoint – networking can be exhausting and not all rooms are equal. In any business it takes a collaboration of experts in various fields. If I didn’t get out there and meet people I’d never have met the expert entertainment attorneys, sales agents etc. that are so important to the success of my business. I very much believe in the adage “Just show up.” I met my closest friend at an event I almost didn’t turn up to. For me it’s important that I don’t go to these events with the thought “Tonight I’m going to get that deal.” This causes too much pressure. Yes, it’s important to know what it is that you need and have that short intro pitch ready for the “So what do you do?” question, but, when you attend with a more relaxed attitude you will undoubtedly be easier to talk with and you won’t be seen to be suffering from the rubber neck syndrome – looking around to see if there is someone more important to connect with. I’m choosy about the events I attend though. I will research speakers, the venue, or, check out the attendee list if possible, only because it is easy to suffer burnout in this game. Sometimes it’s OK to allow yourself to take a night off every now and again!
What are your top 3 “rules” or tips to pass on to others Rachel?
- Look out for the brave soul who’s at the event on their own – you’ll recognise them as they’re the ones lit by the glow of their mobile phone screen. They are there to network too. Assuming they don’t look like a crazy person, say “Hi”.
- Have a business card that can be written on so your new contacts can make notes about meeting you.
- Be a gracious networker. If someone gives you their pitch and then another person joins you, pitch the first person you met to the new person. They will love you forever for it.
My next interviewee is Draven McConville, founder & CEO of London based software company Klipboard, a job he says is a privilege to have the opportunity to do. Draven originally comes from Northern Ireland but these days lives in London. He loves art, travel, architecture & anything design & is a total car & motorcycle fanatic – he rides a Harley to work every day with a Miniature Dachshund called Winston in a backpack! (see the photo above – well – what did you expect from my friends).
We first met when you were thinking about moving from Northern Ireland to London. What are your top tips for anyone else in the same situation?
Moving to London was always on my radar and eventually my business presented the opportunity to allow me to do so. The biggest challenge for me was arriving in a city where I didn’t know anyone. I put this down to not having gone to university where I would have begun the basis of a network with people that may also have ventured to London for their career. That said, I think anybody moving from Northern Ireland is going to find it difficult settling in London even if they know a few people, so building a network for support is important. With that in mind I had to begin grass roots networking again and what I mean by that is starting at the bottom and working your way through. My top tips are:
- The day does not end at 5.30pm. This is London and there is always an event to go to, get out there and go to them. Don’t be picky about the event, just make sure it is of some interest to you as that increases your possibility of meeting like-minded people. It doesn’t have to be business related. I don’t build business connections, I build friendships with my network.
- Be prepared to work hard, I had 23 meetings in my first week of living in London.
- You need to build trust, don’t expect people to make connections with you instantly. Be visible, reliable and importantly add value, no matter how small or big it may be. This is a big city and it’s fast moving with a transient population so people typically lack time which therefore means building connections is not as easy as in Northern Ireland.
You’re an entrepreneur Draven. Has networking helped you find investors for your business & if so how?
Great question! Simple answer is YES, with doubt networking helped me find investors for my business. I have 7 angels and a Private Equity fund based in Seattle that have invested $2 million to date into my business. There is no way that I would have had the opportunity to have these investors in my business if I had not networked. Investors really do work on a “referral” basis and not on a cold approach. My network helped me to get that warm referral approach. How? you ask. I can give you the exact story and moment it happened for me.
I was at Somerset House meeting with some executives from Channel 4. After the meeting finished I was exhausted but instead of going home I went to a book launch across the courtyard in Somerset House. Within two minutes of arriving (and bumping into yourself and saying hello!) I got chatting to a guy. The conversation was fairly general and lasted no longer than 20 minutes. At the end of it he gave me his business card and at that point I noticed his surname. It was the same surname as another gentleman who’d been in my office a few weeks prior, so I said to him and he laughed and said it was a family relative. What was more amazing was that this tweaked his memory and he then told me his family relative had actually mentioned me to him – it helps having a strange first name!
We both went off on our separate paths but then later in the evening he came back and asked for his business card back. I joked by asking had we fallen out already! He wrote two names and email addresses on the card and told me to contact them. I didn’t ask why, I just did it the next day. I met those people and also continued to meet him over the course of 6 months for coffee and catch-ups. There were many more moments in this growing relationship but long story short, the day I told him I had a software product to release he sat up intently, listened and within an hour he had formulated a group of people I “must” meet. Those people are now my Chairman and group of investors.
Moral of the story…. be curious, explore opportunities.
Is it about quantity or quality of people?
Quality 100% for me. My network is expansive and not limited to entrepreneurs or high flying corporate executives, that’s not what is important to me. What is important is that I have conversations with my network that inspire, encourage and challenge my mind; those conversations only happen if you have good quality and like minded individuals in your network. I have high net worth individuals and a couple of billionaires in my network but I have just as interesting a conversation with the guy that serves me my coffee every morning.
He shares some fascinating stories and insight with me daily plus most people wouldn’t have the first idea of how well connected he is until they get to know him. One morning I was getting my coffee he told me to come back at lunch to meet his friend, I didn’t ask who, I just turned up. Not naming names, his friend was one of the most important British architects of our time. Why did he do that? He knew I loved architecture so connected us and that connection has not only benefitted me in a business sense but also a personal sense. The guy that serves me coffee knows the art of real networking.
I heard someone say at a recent conference that she goes through her network once a year & carries out a cull. I’d be far too scared to do that as many of my best opportunities have come to me from my “loose” ties. What’s your view?
Absolutely not! I’ve connected with the individuals in my network for a reason and engaged in conversations with them, therefore they have value to me and hopefully I have value to them. I think in her case she may just be connecting to everyone and anyone which goes back to the quality versus quantity question. One thing most people forget is that your connections have their own connections. If I was to cull one of my connections I’m potentially culling hundreds more therefore limiting any potential opportunities.
Last but not least we have Denise. Denise is a close friend of mine & someone I admire immensely. She describes herself as having a massive sense of curiosity about people, places, culture and technology. She loves networking, meeting new people and is inspired daily by brave and passionate entrepreneurs. She is passionate about the emerging technologies that affect us all whether we like it or not! and is fervent about women having the right to an education, a place at the board room table, diverse and inclusive workplaces and female founders gaining investment. Denise has worked and lived in the US, Ireland, China and she now calls London home.
You’re a legendary networker Denise with an international black book to die for. I’ve lost count of the number of people we’ve introduced each other to but I bet you know the number as I know you have your own networking methodology. Are you willing to share it with us?
Only for you Mary!
I’ve lived in the US, Ireland, China and now London and as my network grew I initially used LinkedIn. At the start I could nurture my relationships with this tool alone but as my relationships with my network developed I felt LinkedIn wasn’t enough, I felt I needed to add another layer.
As I was building my network across geographies, industries, personal interest areas through to areas that feed my curiosity I couldn’t manage it efficiently with LinkedIn alone. One thing that I felt very strongly about was remembering who introduced me, where the connection came from, was it a direct introduction, was the connection made at an event or through a network, if they were nurtured online or if I found them on LinkedIn and reached out.
I’m not sure what exactly drove me to do this but I was curious to know how my network was building. Knowing where the relationship started helped me to add more value, people also appreciate when I remember where we met and it also allows me to understand my networking habits, what was working for me and areas that I needed to develop.
As my network continued to grow, I added areas of interest to those connections, what drives them, what they’re passionate about not only in a work capacity but in their personal lives too which leads to more fruitful connections and my ability to add support and value to those connections on more than one level.
I now have a little personal CRM system which I review continuously, who’s moved job, who has added to their interests, who I haven’t seen for a coffee and a catch up and ultimately it allows me to understand how I can support my network further.
Doing this has given me a stronger network, unbelievable friendships, amazing opportunities and overall it’s given me the ability to give back, push forward and continue to build my network.
Random Linkedin requests – accept or delete?
My answer to accept or delete is that it depends! Mutual benefit is what I underpin my decision with.
But what I would state to anyone starting to develop their network online is don’t send blank requests, stop now if you do! It’s extremely lazy.
My working practice is as follows:
If I receive blank LinkedIn requests and if I don’t see the mutual value, I delete them. I feel very passionately that relationships only work if there is benefit on both sides and I don’t have time to discover what the benefit is if it’s not obvious. You shouldn’t need to be a mind reader or have psychic powers! This may sound harsh but London moves at speed and the volume of requests I receive is extensive and therefore blank requests with no obvious benefit don’t deserve any of my time.
But if I feel there is mutual benefit once I have reviewed the person’s LinkedIn profile and yet the message is blank I write back to them and ask what it was that triggered their request. I give people 48 hours to respond. I do invest the time in responding and this has led to some wonderful conversations, connections and opportunities. If people don’t respond I just delete them!
If people cannot take the time to introduce themselves and explain their reason for linking I don’t believe they will become a valuable connection where there is benefit on both sides.
When you worked at Enterprise Ireland’s London office a few years ago, what were the top mistakes you saw people or companies make when trying to establish themselves in a new city?
I feel very strongly that when entering a new market, you need to look like you are committed to that market, not dropping in and flying out again. My number one piece of advice is not to arrive at a networking event with your trolley case! People will invest time and energy in helping you if they know you are committed to the market. If they feel you are just dropping in and not valuing the time they’re giving you, they’ll turn their attention elsewhere. I appreciate entering a new market is an expensive process and people cannot be here for days but you must look committed and engaged in developing your network.
My second piece of advice would be, be very specific with your ask. Don’t waste people’s time.
Thirdly, if people are generous enough with their network make sure you respect it and follow up. I believe if you’re asking for introductions and connections understand that they didn’t come easily. They have taken many networking events, many late evenings to build and nurture, so respect who is making the introduction and who you have been introduced to. If I don’t believe the person will respect the introduction I don’t make it.
Last but not least, be aware of the colour you wear when networking, I try to wear a bold colour when networking, it makes it easy for people to point at you and say you should speak to Denise across a crowded room! Be seen even if networking doesn’t come easy to you the introductions and approaches will come.
How do you deal with that “Can I buy you a coffee & pick your brain” request?
I must admit I used to be much more generous with my time for these requests until I got burned and stopped! I will only now meet someone for a coffee of this nature if they have been introduced to me from within my network. I don’t take coffee from LinkedIn requests. If people really want to meet you they will find someone to introduce them. This approach has given me a lot of time back!
I feel so passionately about networking, connections and developing relationships, my approach may seem extreme and at times harsh but I am proud to say I can pick up the phone to all my Linkedin connections and have amazing relationships.
So – a few common themes throughout all three sets of answers and a lot of similarities to my own networking approach (including Denise’s answer on the coffee/pick your brain thing). Be curious, look outside of your usual gang, do your homework in advance, actually go to events, it’s about quality of connections not quantity, put in the time and energy, add value to others, always follow up on introductions others make for you, pay attention, be gracious, be visible, take the odd night off! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog & if you did, please do share it with your own network. As always, I look forward to any comments you may have.