Why am I so passionate and focused on connecting with people? Because I'm being given the opportunity to meet someone who may influence my life. If that sounds ridiculous to you, then your idea of networking and connecting may need some fine-tuning.
I've heard people boast that they have 35,000 contacts in their phone, have collected boxes of business cards or that they're in the top 1% of LinkedIn users, with thousands of connections. How does that translate into something useful or meaningful? There is no substance behind these numbers.
I meet between 2 and 5 people every weekday, scheduled around my work appointments. I never limit myself to the type of person I'll meet. They can be young or old, in school, in business or retired. It's this "out of the box" thinking that influences the way I connect in person and especially online.
In today's rushed world, everyone is looking for the quick fix, the instant gratification of building their network. While LinkedIn is the preferred platform for business connections and networking, I think it's misused and misunderstood by most users.
Having thousands of connections on LinkedIn does not make you a connector, you're more of a collector of people. It's important to understand what your purpose for using LinkedIn is. It's mainly to list your experience and recommendations from other users likely to influence a potential client or find a job. This is not networking or connecting, it's warm marketing at best. To harness the strength of LinkedIn as a marketing tool, I suggest taking this video tutorial series to maximize your results.
Now when someone sends you a LinkedIn invitation, ask yourself what their motivation is. If you accept, they will show as one of your connections in your profile and their posts will populate in your news feed. Will that benefit you, them or both? Don't accept based on your ego, do it because it makes sense.
If you're looking to network with like-minded individuals with a basic set of commonalities, a good start is a Meetup. This is a worldwide platform that gives you access to thousands of meetups per week, many of them free. No matter how diverse or offbeat your interests are, there's a meetup for you.
Once you meet someone at an event like this, take it one step further to a one-on-one meeting and spend an hour with them. You've already discovered something in common, now see what else they're about.
In a perfect world, there would be a website that individually handcrafts introductions to connect people willing to meet others that could enrich their lives. If you live in NYC, this site actually exists. It's called Climbing Fish and their vision of connecting is in complete alignment with my intent.
The quotes from some of the Climbing Fish members validate how well connecting works. The site is free but you need to apply as a member. Once approved, the two co-founders, Phil O'Brien and John Lynch, personally match up who you will be introduced to. This is a great way to test the world of true connecting, with no expectations of the outcome.
Between Meetup, Climbing Fish and your personal sphere of influence introductions, you're going to start meeting a lot of people. It can be overwhelming to keep track of who's who and what makes them special. I'm going to recommend two free apps that are powerful on their own but work well together.
The first is Refresh. It's currently available for iOS and Google Glass but will have an Android version in the future. You connect the app with your calendar, email, contacts, Evernote, LinkedIn and almost all social media accounts. The more information you feed in, the stronger the results are. Refresh will put together a report one hour in advance that tells you everything publicly available about the person you're meeting. You'll never feel unprepared, even with back-to-back meetings.
Although this sounds stalkerish, it's not. I show it to every person I meet and they're always impressed, especially when it details who we know in common, which is a great conversation starter.
To make the most of my meetings, the second app I use and highly recommend is Evernote. It's available for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac and even Blackberry. It is free (although I suggest upgrading to the premium version for an additional $5/month or $45/year.) One incredible benefit of Premium is that after you take a picture of your handwritten notes, it will "read" them and make them searchable, like a PDF, so you don't have to transcribe them.
Evernote does a great job of storing business cards. Take a picture of their card and you can give the card back. Evernote saves a copy of the card, enters it into your contacts and (if you're connected to LinkedIn), pulls their LinkedIn information (including their picture) and asks if you want to send them an invitation to connect.
By getting organized, you'll be prepared to harness the power to begin connecting people in meaningful ways. The goal is to be known first as a connector, then a super-connector. You will ultimately be sought after for your professional services in addition to the value you bring any relationship.