Build Your Million-Dollar Network for Free

Tips get kick your networking in high gear
October 9, 2012

When I met him, he was sitting in a high-backed chair. His table was the most visible one at the most powerful happy hour spot in our city, Austin, Texas. His suit cost more than my first car. His laugh was loud. He has been called “The Mayor of the Four Seasons,” but his real name is Jerry Harris.

Jerry, a high-powered real estate lawyer and former city attorney, is the greatest networker I know. He meets at least 30 new people every day after work—and one of them was me.

I was sitting with friends and he invited us to join his boisterous table. Two minutes later we’re sitting with a former lieutenant governor, investment banker, real estate developer and revolving cast of other characters. With braces still on my teeth and being a mere 21 years old, I couldn’t have looked more out of place.

Jerry became a mentor. He changed how I thought about meeting people, building a network and becoming a connector. Over many lunches at his “club,” he taught me three important lessons about meeting people:

• When you introduce yourself to a stranger, both of you make a friend. Most people would like more friends.

• Never judge another person based on how they look. Jerry lived this to a T. He was an equal-opportunity introducer. This made his network unique even in our metropolitan area of a million-plus people.

• Your business card is worth more in someone else’s pocket. Always offer your business card to a new friend—even those in flip-flops.

I’ve transformed Jerry’s timeless insights into ready-to-use actions for building a power network (no $4,000 suit required). Here they are:

- Leverage LinkedIn. Send invitations to everyone in your contact database, those in the stack of business cards on your desk, and everyone you meet or see daily. These might be business contacts, social acquaintances or family and friends. I have 4,539 LinkedIn contacts, most of whom I became better friends with after connecting on LinkedIn. I view LinkedIn like my grandfather’s Rolodex, Mom’s office water cooler, and my generation’s Facebook all rolled into one accessible conversation. What an opportunity!

- Rub the right elbows. A great way to support a nonprofit cause and build your network is to volunteer at a gala or pricey fundraiser. You’ll connect with people you want to meet, and you’re pre-positioned to be of service.

- Network your noggin. Attend public lectures and events at local colleges. These might feature a guest speaker or expert panel. The events are usually designed to drive conversation among attendees before and after—giving you a ready-made conversation starter for meeting people.

So what was the best lesson I’ve learned from Jerry?

One day we were walking downtown when Jerry saw a car with a flat tire and a family standing on the sidewalk nearby. Jerry asked the mom if he could help. I’m sure the family thought he would call someone (I know I did). Instead he took off his fancy suit jacket, got on his knees in the street and changed the tire. People kept walking by in suits, recognizing him and saying hello while he kept changing the tire. That was the best networking lesson: Help others first and you’ll always make new friends.

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