How do you network without feeling sleazy?

How do you network without feeling sleazy?
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Every Friday, we’re answering your questions about business, startups, customer success and more.

Happy Friday!

This week’s question comes from Alex M., who asks:

A lot of people think of networking as trading business cards.

It’s not, and the reason why is that your business card has no value.

Relationships are built on adding value to each other’s lives. Building your network is about delivering value to as many of the right people as possible so that when you need something, somebody in your network will be happy to help you get it.

Now, it’s not transactional. You’re not trading favors.

You might do something valuable for someone many, many times before you ask for their help (Gary Vaynerchuk calls this Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook).

But forget the conferences and the business cards, and think about who you want to meet that might be valuable to you.

Then you can do one of two things:

Reach out to them and help them with something, with no expectation of anything in return.


Reach out to someone that they know and trust and help them with something, with no expectation of anything in return. Eventually, you’ll be able to ask for an introduction. Warm introductions are the best⁠—and often only⁠—way to get to the busiest and most successful people.

Here’s the thing: a free sample of your product, or a 15 minute call to learn more about how you can help them, are not valuable to the people you want to network with. They’re busy and they don’t need discounts, so both of these are totally wrong.

Instead, ask yourself:

  • Is there something you’re good at (for example, design or conversion optimization) that they might not be experts at, and can you offer them free help on their site or a side project?
  • Can you send them ideas for improving their business that they haven’t thought of? James Altucher comes up with 10 ideas a day, and when he was getting started would often send them to companies for free. That’s how he landed many of his paying clients.
  • Are there people that you know that the person in question would like to meet? Can you make a warm introduction?
  • Are there books or products (not yours) that the person could get a lot of value from? Noah Kagan, a master networker, used to send people Ex-Officio underwear.

Take any of these ideas, implement them, and repeat hundreds of times. Networking is a long-term effort, but it’s the best way to open yourself to incredible opportunities, whether that’s investment, advice or business deals.

Alex Turnbull
Alex Turnbull Alex is the CEO & Founder of Groove. He loves to help other entrepreneurs build startups by sharing his own experiences from the trenches.