As I have expanded my network within Boston, I’ve quickly learned that accruing a massive rolodex of business cards doesn’t mean much if no one remembers you. It means even less if people remember you for the wrong reasons. What this means is that when you meet someone that you want to network with, don’t just hand out a business card; make an impression. (Unless the person your speaking with is Christian Bale from American Psycho and he obsesses over business cards).
At the end of the day, people don’t help people they know; people help people they like. Knowing someone means close to nothing but having a friend can take you anywhere. Rather than going to a conference and handing your business card out to 100 people, identify 5 people who you want to meet and strategize on how you can befriend them. Look them up on LinkedIn, search for them on Google, identify some interests and figure out a way to have a meaningful conversation with them.
Last year, I went to a conference called the UnConference and I had the personal mission of recruiting people to speak at my conference, TEDxUMassAmherst. There were 3 people I had identified as great speakers: David Meerman Scott, Sean Dalton and Scott Kirsner. I created 3 separate notes on my iPhone with some info on their past, what they currently do and what their interests are. Long story short, I was able to recruit David and Scott to speak at my conference and I am still close with them to this day (I never had the chance to meet Sean at the UnConference).
Focus on your reputation. Focus on building a network of friends vs building a network of acquaintances. A lot of times, a friendship won’t be built the first time you meet someone. Make sure you follow up with the people you meet and ask to grab a coffee or lunch. They may be busy and may decline your invitation, but just the fact that you went the extra step in asking will go a long way with whomever you’re talking to. A network of 100 friends will always be more powerful than a network with 1000 acquaintances, so build strategically and nurture your relationships.