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The Hardest Part of Networking

April 12, 2016, 12:00 AM UTC
Group of conference participants standing in lobby of conference center, socializing during lunch break
Photograph by Martin Barraud — Caiaimage via Getty Images

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the best way to make fruitful connections?” is written by Jackie De La Rosa, cofounder of BeautyTouch.

When I first started working in the entrepreneurship community in Boston, I had very few connections. I had recently moved from Florida to attend law school and knew about 10 people in the Greater Boston area—and none of them had started a company or invested in one. How does a young professional with little to no experience connect with some of the most prominent investors and entrepreneurs? I managed to meet some of the most successful entrepreneurs and investors—who have turned into employers and mentors—by creating meaningful relationships. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years:

Relate to the person—not the title
Successful people are b-u-s-y, and they meet tons of people at conferences, meetings, panels, and events. Why should they spend a percentage of their time with you when thousands of other people are also enchanted with their expertise?

Do your homework and research their interests, experience, and history so you have some background to go off of if you are successful in landing an in-person meeting. A friend once told me that everyone likes to talk about where they’re from. If you don’t have time to Google them, adding a fun fact about their hometown or background is a disarming tactic to relate to them on a more personal level.

See also: The Best Way to Network

First listen
As a lawyer, I naturally like to talk and carry the conversation, but the best networkers are the people who listen first. I have to constantly remind myself to ask inquisitive questions so the person I’m interacting with will open up to me. Knowledge is power, and being able to learn what people care about will create a point of interest you can follow up with. Forwarding an article or blog about that point of interest is a good way to establish a relationship of mutual interest—rather than you just asking for favors, which can be an immediate turnoff.

Then add value (speaking not required)
First listen, then show value. After you sincerely synthesize what the person has entrusted in you, proactively find opportunities or advisers who could help them. Offering a helpful connection can go a long way in the future. No matter how experienced and successful someone may be, he or she is probably still hungry to learn and adapt. Showing your genuine interest in his or her self-development will create a more meaningful and trusting relationship.

Keep in touch quarterly
It’s easy to meet people, especially in our connected generation. The hardest part of networking is keeping in touch with your connections. Try to reach out monthly or quarterly with a meaningful email or text. A simple this-article-could-be-helpful email can show a sincere interest in the person. Persistence is tough, especially when you become busy with a new job, but it’s well worth the time. Why do you think social media has blossomed as it has and become such an integral part in everyone’s life? It’s simple: Social media has effortlessly decreased the necessary effort to maintain your relationships. Use it!