"It's not what you know; it's who you know."

You've probably heard this phrase before, and it's true– building relationships and connections are critical both in our personal and professional lives.

And I'll admit it: I used to be terrible at networking. The thought of walking into a room full of strangers and striking up a conversation made me break out in a cold sweat.

For some people like me, it was the fear holding me back. For others, they simply don’t know where to start.

But luckily, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, and I’ve become a master at networking.

In this post, I’m going to share some of the insider hacks I’ve learned throughout the years to help you overcome your networking fears and build a strong and valuable network.

9 Hacks to Master Networking

Tip #1: Start Early

If you're young enough, now's the time to start building your network.

You know how they say high school and university are the best years of your life? Well, they're also the perfect time to start making connections.

Join clubs and organizations related to your interests or future career, attend networking events on campus, and reach out to alumni for advice and guidance.

The key is to be proactive and intentional about building relationships– don't wait for opportunities to come to you; seek them out.

Trust me, the sooner you start, the better off you'll be. And who knows, you might even make a lifelong friend or two (or at least someone who will buy you a drink at the next networking event).

Tip #2: Meet up with People Using Meetups

So Meetup is an online platform that brings people together based on shared interests.

It’s one of my favorite ways to meet new people and expand my network. There are Meetups for everything from tech startups to knitting. So no matter what your interests are, there's likely a Meetup for you.

In fact, I actually have my own Meetup called IndieBeers in Lyon, France, where I get together with like-minded people to discuss things we're working on, exchange ideas, and talk about how we can help each other out. And, yes, there's beer too!

If you're in the area, you're more than welcome to join us. But even if you're not in Lyon, you can use the same tactic to meet new people in your own city.

The first IndieBeers was a lot of fun!

Even if there isn't already a Meetup in your niche, why not start one yourself?

Not only will you get to meet new people, but you'll also establish yourself as a leader in your community and gain valuable experience organizing events.

Tip #3: Automate Networking with Findymail

Let's be real– networking can be intimidating, especially if you're shy or introverted. But that doesn't mean you can't still make meaningful connections.

One way I've made connections is by using my email-finding tool – Findymail. I pull emails from places like LinkedIn and Sales Nav, and then I send out connection requests to people I'm interested in.

It doesn't need to be anything extravagant– just something simple, like:

"Hey, I saw you're working in [niche], and I love what you're doing in the space. I'm doing something similar. If you have the time, how about we get together over a virtual coffee (or beer) to share ideas and talk about how we can help each other grow?"

In addition to using Findymail for cold outreach, I've made quite a few professional friends, so I highly recommend it, especially if you get anxious actually meeting people face-to-face. Just remember to personalize your subject lines and email content (especially if you’re in the networking game to sell).

Plus, with the rise of remote work, virtual coffee chats and happy hours have become the new norm.

So don't be afraid to reach out to people you admire or want to do business with. The worst that can happen is they’ll say “no.”

Tip #4: Take Your Networking to New Heights with Virtual Summits

Virtual summits are like the cooler, more tech-savvy cousin of regular events.

They're basically online gatherings where experts and enthusiasts come together to share their knowledge and insights on a particular topic. This can include things like digital workshops, panels, webinars, and more.

It's a great way to connect with like-minded people from all over the world without ever leaving your house.

For example, I recently hosted a talk at the virtual MicroConf conference for early-stage SaaS companies.

But just like in-person events, you need to have clear intentions and goals when attending a virtual summit.

The more specific your conference, the better – especially if you’re using it for sales prospecting.

Check out the attendee list beforehand and scope out the key players you want to connect with. Once you've identified them, reach out to exchange contact info and start a conversation.

And don't forget to take the conversation to the next level, like a virtual coffee date, to get to know each other one-on-one.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can host your own virtual summit. This will help you establish yourself as a thought leader in your niche and have people seeking you out.

Tip #5: Go to Local Networking Conferences

In-person networking conferences can be a blast, especially if you live in a big city with lots of events happening throughout the year.

The best part is that everyone there wants to meet new people and make connections, so it's a perfect opportunity to get out of your shell and introduce yourself to others.

And sometimes, these events will have a guest speaker who's a big shot in the industry, and you could find yourself chatting it up with them over a drink at the bar.

Here are some pro tips I’ve picked up after going to a ton of these things over the years:

  • Be bold! Walk up to people and break the ice. Don't be shy; you're all there for the same reason.
  • But if you are feeling a bit nervous, ask someone you've already met to introduce you to others.
  • Confidence is crucial but don't overdo it. No one likes a networking bulldozer.
  • If someone is chowing down on a plate of food, give them a break and wait for them to finish before making your move.
  • If there's a bar, grab a drink and use it as a conversation starter. Just don't go overboard with the alcohol.
  • Don't interrupt groups of two, but feel free to approach groups of three or more.
  • Don't be a taker; offer help where you can. People remember those who are helpful.
  • Don't talk about yourself too much. Instead, use rapport-building questions to learn more about your interlocutor.
  • But it’s OK to mention your skillset and expertise so the person has it in their mind.
  • If you genuinely like something about someone, give them a compliment. Everyone loves a good ego boost.
  • Don't forget to exchange business cards and follow up with an email.

Tip #6: Start a Podcast in Your Niche/Industry

If you've got something to say, then why not say it through a podcast?

Podcasts are all the rage these days, and if you're passionate about your niche or industry, then starting your own show can be a great way to build a community and make new connections.

You can talk about anything from the latest trends to personal experiences to hot-button issues in your field. Plus, if you start interviewing interesting people in your industry, you'll make some major connections along the way.

For example, Lori Richardson hosts a great podcast about the challenges of women in sales.

Think about it this way: you could be sitting across from your dream mentor, asking them questions about their journey and picking their brain for valuable insights. Or you could be sharing your own story with others in your industry and inspiring them to follow in your footsteps.

The possibilities are endless.

And let's not forget about the potential revenue streams. If your podcast really takes off, you could start monetizing it through sponsorships, advertisements, or even merchandise sales.

Tip #7: Leverage Social Media

Social media has revolutionized the way we interact with each other, and if you're not using it to network, you're missing out.

Seriously, it's called social networking for a reason!

The great thing is that there are so many different platforms to choose from: LinkedIn for your professional connections, Facebook for your personal network, Twitter for short and sweet conversations, and even TikTok for the more visual learners out there.

But remember, building your social media presence takes time and effort. You can't just create a profile and expect people to come to you.

That means making posts, commenting on other people's posts, and liking content that's relevant to your niche. The more you interact, the more visible you become.

But don't just interact with anyone and everyone.

Be strategic about who you connect with. Look for people who are in your industry or have similar interests, and engage with them. Start conversations, ask questions, and offer your insights. And don't be afraid to directly message people to start building a relationship.

As you build your following, leverage your social media presence to showcase your expertise. Share valuable content, whether it's your own or someone else's, that will provide value to your followers.

It’s not going to explode overnight, but if you consistently show up and engage with others, you'll start to see results.

Tip #8: Don’t Go Burning Bridges

Look, I get it. There are some people in your professional life that you just can't stand.

But here's the thing: you never know when you might need them. Maybe they have connections in your industry, or maybe they know someone who knows someone who can help you out.

Now, I'm not saying you need to pretend to like someone if you don't. But you also shouldn't go out of your way to be rude to them. Don't be that person who gets into pointless arguments and flame wars in comment sections.

It's a waste of time and energy, and it can damage your reputation.

Instead, always try to keep a civilized working relationship with everyone in your network. You don't have to be best buds with everyone, but you should at least be respectful and professional.

Don't burn bridges just because you can. Keep them intact, and you might find that they can help you cross over to bigger and better things in the future.

Tip #9: One of the Best Networking Hacks? Cultivate Your Social Skills

The rest of these tips don’t mean anything if you don’t have the social aptitude to make them work.

The ability to connect with others, read nonverbal cues, and make a good impression are all important factors in building professional relationships.

And the good news is that these social skills can be developed, even if you're not naturally outgoing or confident.

One excellent resource is the ultimate (sales) book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, which is a classic on the topic.

And if you're more of a visual learner, check out the YouTube channel “Charisma on Command,” where you can learn all sorts of tricks to make yourself more likable. Plus, there are plenty of TED talks to learn from.

Are You Ready to Build Your Network?

Again, networking is one of the most crucial aspects of building a successful career or business. Whether you're an extroverted social butterfly or an introverted wallflower, the power of a strong network cannot be overstated.

The truth is, you never know where your next opportunity or big break will come from, and having a diverse and supportive network can make all the difference.

So, take the time to invest in your networking skills, both online and in person, and remember to always treat others with respect and kindness. Now, get out there and start meeting people!