In December 2012, I moved from Boston, Massachusetts to DC to launch a training company focused on public speaking and presentation skills. I moved without a single client but with an incredible network of friends, former colleagues, and classmates.
I was attracted to DC for the same reasons many of us are: to mobilize people, to effect change; to do something. Changing the world takes not only a powerful vision but a powerful voice, and I would be here to help people speak with confidence, passion, and – most importantly – authenticity.
Arriving in DC, I could literally feel the clock ticking; this was only going to work if I made it work. I set a goal of 2 networking meetings per day, every day of the week. I reached out to everyone I had ever met in DC (as well as some I had never met) and asked them for advice on how my skills might be valuable in their industry. I’d ask them who else I should speak with and would follow up with a thank you email, a paragraph about me that they could easily pass along to others, and a customized one-page PDF about my business. Advice turned to referrals, and the business quickly grew.
What have I learned from this process?
You must do the heavy-lifting
Much of my early success happened because of friends and colleagues who believed in me; I also made it easy for them to help me. I asked for advice, not business, and followed up with emails that were very easy to pass along. I was also incredibly specific in my requests; the more specific I was, the easier it was for them to help me.
You must follow-up
If a tree falls in the forest…you know the rest. If you meet someone and don’t follow up, it’s as if you never met them. Giving someone my business card means very little; if I follow up with a relevant email and stay in touch periodically, it exponentially increases our chances of working together.
You must focus on the people who care about what you’re doing
It’s a tough business model that involves changing people’s beliefs and behaviors. I try to find the people who already realize they need my skills, whose eyes light up when they hear what I do. If they “get it,” then they will be powerful advocates on my behalf within their company. I disregard the people who don’t care.
You must believe in what you’re doing
I completely and fully believe that the work I do has a transformative effect on people around the world. I know this because they tell me so – in anonymous surveys as well as years later, in person or by email. This fuels me and keeps me going and makes me a very powerful and authentic salesperson.
You must have an authentic, bulletproof elevator speech
When people meet you, they immediately try to determine where you fit in the scheme of what they know (and who they know). If you have an agenda (clients, referrals, connections), you can use that to your advantage by making it easy for them to help you. Have an authentic and conversational personal introduction that gets to the core of who you are and what you are up to – 2 sentences max. However…
You must listen more than you talk
Rather than walking around pitching your idea to anyone who will listen, focus on getting to know the people around you. Be curious about them, about their business, and about their professional goals. “What brings you here?” and “How did you get into that kind of work?” are great conversation starters to replace the standard DC greeting, “What do you do?” When the conversation turns to you, you’ll be prepared due to point number 5.
You must talk to everyone
I’ve found clients on the Acela Express (a man handed me his business card while getting off the train after overhearing my conversation. He said “I heard what you do and I need your help; call me.” I’ve found leads after asking a public question at a conference and using a short 2-sentence elevator speech. and I’ve worked with two separate individuals after meeting them while dancing tango at the 18th Street Lounge. Especially in DC, you never know who is sitting next to you.
You must offer to help
Great connectors are always thinking about how they can connect you with people they know. You should do the same by opening up your network to others. Offer to make connections and then follow up personally. The more connected we all are, the more we all benefit.
You must never take rejection personally
For every email I send that gets a response, I send 3 others that don’t. Maybe the timing isn’t right and maybe they’re just not interested. If you think there’s a connection, keep at it and maybe the timing will be right in the future. If you can’t see a connection, don’t push it. And don’t take it personally when they don’t want to work with you. If possible, find out why and learn from it.
Finally, you must trust yourself
There comes a time, at the end of an event, when my mind simply shuts down. Even as an extrovert, my energy is drained and I can’t network anymore. When that happens, I don’t force it; I trust myself and I go home. We can’t work at 100% all the time, and the more we can relax when our mind and body call out for it, the harder we’ll work once we’re back.