A Thorough Guide to Growing Your Network from Crafting Cold Emails to Personal SEO

May 22, 2019

In 2016, I happened to write an (still relevant) article on the things I learned while job hunting in San Francisco as a new grad. The article on Medium has nearly 30k views, is a top hit on Google, and even today, 3 years later, I receive messages from readers asking for more advice.

The most common follow-up question that most people have is regarding my second point in the article: utilizing one's network to find a job instead of cold applying. This raises the question, how do I utilize my network if I don't have one in this city, in this industry, in this role, or in this company, etc?

I've thought a lot about this again as I am currently traveling the world and hoping to gain knowledge and insights about each region in a very short period of time; the best way to do that is to talk to people. So how do I find people to talk to and who are willing to talk to me? For that, I have built out a framework to help build, expand, and maintain my network.

Hope this will help people at any career stage find a job, secure a partnership, or find a support group anywhere in the world.

Why is a network important?

The most well-understood reason to have a large network is that if you know more people, you can open more doors (i.e. referrals to companies) and sign more deals (because you can't do business with someone you don't know). There is no doubt that having a network that can introduce you to the people you need is one of the greatest assets in anyone's career.

There are two types of networks: an open network, and a closed network. Having an open network means that you are the link between clusters of people who don't know each other. A closed network is the opposite, it means that you are part of a circle who are all connected.

Ron Burt, one of the world's top network research scientists concluded that the greatest indicator of career success is based on how open your network is.

Most people spend their lives in closed networks. A closed network is more comfortable because a strong sense of trust has been built amongst its members making it easy to communicate with each other. People have the same views, thereby you live in a state where people around you confirm your world view.

We can think of these groups as groups of friends or groups of any identity, including countries. For example, those who can be bicultural will be able to see differences and opportunities that others who only associate with one culture cannot.

There are huge opportunities for those that have open networks.

  • You will have a more accurate world view because by receiving information from different groups, you will have the opportunity to view a piece of information from multiple angles and have more resources to make decisions.
  • You can control the flow of information and the timing of release amongst different groups. This will give you a first-mover advantage to act on relevant information.
  • You can be a connector between groups and bring incredible value to two groups who otherwise do not communicate.
  • With more information and ideas as inspiration, you have more space for creativity and innovation.

So how do I start building my network?

Step 1: Use the network you already have to the fullest

Start with those close to you: your family, friends, and co-workers. This demographic of people who already know you are the easiest to network with, you simply have to put in a bit more effort than what you are already doing.

Friends and Family

If someone comes to you for resources, advice, introductions for any reason, even if they're unemployed, graciously try your best to help them. When I was job hunting for the first time and when the startup I was at went under were the times when I was the most grateful for any little bit of assistance because that's when I needed it most. Today, I always try to keep in mind how I could help them and will always be there if they ever call. Favors and a strong relationship are more valuable than any monetary price you can put on your assistance.

Young people and those who are at the beginning of their careers will not always be junior. Unemployment is also temporary. Life is unpredictable. Tomorrow, you may need their help.

Classmates and Coworkers

The best way to form a bond with people is through sharing experiences, especially hard times together or progress towards a common goal. The classroom and the workplace are the best places to meet people in those settings. Alumni of a school and company are networks that you get just for going to school and getting a job, but you get as much value out of this network as the effort you put in.

Being remembered as the best team player, the highest achiever, the hardest worker, or most importantly a great person to work with will open doors for you in the future. The goal is to be such a great performer and so likable that when an opportunity comes up for someone you know, the first person they think about is you.

One of my friends shared his story with me (he found me through my writing!). After graduating in 2014, he joined LinkedIn in SF. In two years, he followed his manager to Uber (also in SF). In another year or so, he followed Davis Wong, a former executive at Uber China, to take on a leadership role at Mobike (the most successful bike sharing company in China). After a few months, a few old classmates who had founder and exit experiences brought him in to co-found an internet start-up. I listened jaw dropped at how someone who was only 5 years out of school has had these amazing opportunities, but as he acknowledged himself, these were all opportunities others brought to him, not ones he actively sought out. These opportunities came to him because he was who everyone he has worked with/studied with thought of when they were looking to fill these roles.

Step 2: Learn how to sell yourself to make people responsive and more people come to you

Aside from performing the best you can at what you already, the internet age allows you to display your best self to those beyond your existing network.

The first step is to find your positioning. The first lesson in sales is to "Sell Yourself"

Before you decide to go build your network and reach out to anyone, answer the following questions:

1. Who am I?

What are the facts about you most relevant to the person you are reaching out to? Similar to tailoring your resume for different job applications by highlighting different experiences, using different keywords, writing different summaries, your self-introduction should be customized for different interactions

2. What is my angle?

The angle you take is the role that you are playing for this relationship. Unlike a product, you are a person, playing different roles for different people. You may be a son, daughter, parent, friend, teacher, manager, etc, and this role can change over time. When you are approaching someone, figure out what part of you is relevant for this interaction and this relationship. For example, if you would like to form a partnership, you represent your company or your own brand and if you are reaching out for career advice, you are presenting yourself as the role of a mentee asking for a mentor.

3. What makes me relevant or unique and memorable?

This is especially important if you don't have anything the other person may want. It is important to recognize that sometimes what you can bring someone much more senior than you is a unique perspective and other inspiration from your life.

A good place to look is the other person's interests, for example looking for similar experiences that might create a sense of "group" such as country/city of origin, alumni of the same school, company, or fellowship, or interests in the same sports etc. This may catch the other person's interest.

If there isn't any - then it would be great to tie in an interesting fact about yourself to make you memorable. Remember that it must still be semi-relevant to your positioning and angle that you are taking.

4. Why do I want to connect?

What's your ask? Be as specific as possible!

The worst reach out emails are those that say something along the lines of "I found your profile interesting, I would love to grab coffee" as the call to action. Please elaborate on the call to action on what you would like to learn, discuss, or have the other person do.

An example of my most recent introductions:

Hello XXX,

I found your contact information via YYY. I am Ivy, ex-Wish Manager of Global Merchant Acquisition. I am currently on a journey to explore different markets around the world. I have been to New Zealand, Australia, China, and Japan; I will be heading to South East Asia, India, Middle East, and Africa as well. I hope to meet more global-minded people along the way!

I will be passing through ZZZ around AAA time. I see you are located there and work on BBB. I would love to learn CCC from you and how that works in this market as you have experience in this field. Would love to connect when I am in town!

My LinkedIn and most recent articles on learnings on cross-border and cross-culture business.

Through this process, I connected with entrepreneurs, VCs, small business owners, expats, and people from many different industries. The seniority of people I grabbed a meal or coffee with varied from new grads out of school to multi-exit entrepreneurs to a C-Suite executive at Alibaba.

Not all networking requires a transaction at the end of it such as a job, a sale, or a deal - instead, try to form a genuine connection with an interest in the person as a human being instead of someone who can do something for you. Right now I have the highest success rate in drawing interest to grabbing a coffee specifically because I am doing something most people have never heard of before, traveling the world to learn about different markets. I am not trying to sell them anything or need a favor from them, I only want to hear about their experiences and draw inspiration from their stories.

Step 3: Help like-minded strangers find you through Personal SEO

n this internet age with social media and many different platforms to broadcast to the world, there are multiple different channels that others can find you through - it's up to you to provide what they're looking for. Think of it as marketing for your own personal brand, the steps below are very similar to the digital marketing you would do for a product.

1. Create a good LinkedIn profile

Utilize SEO tactics and strong keywords. This will help those interested in your background and skillset find you while searching on LinkedIn.

2. Create content.

Writing is the best way to share your learnings and show expertise to anyone who finds you online and draws like-minded people to you. Maintaining a constant flow of published content is always something I wish I had started much earlier. Even now, I'm not great at publishing on a schedule. However, every time I publish, I meet dozens if not hundreds (for my top article) of new people who add me on LinkedIn or other social media and we are able to connect over a discussion on a certain topic. Creating content has improved my self-expression as I document my personal growth. It has also opened doors for me in both network and career opportunities. Every successful person I have ever asked included producing content in their top ways to meet new people.

If you’re wondering what you could write about that could be relevant to others, I would start with your own reflections over a certain unique experience, how you solved a problem (that others likely have as well), or explain something from your own perspective. Young people may feel like they are not an expert at anything and know nothing worth writing about. However, everyone, seniority aside, understands things differently, sometimes requiring a different approach. You could be that critical angle that provides content in the exact way a reader needs it. As you grow, there will always be people behind you needing to learn the same thing you just learned - your experience can help them.

3. Figure out where your ideal audience is

Keep an up to date profile there. Whether it’s Twitter which is popular for tech leaders and journalists, Instagram for branding and design, or Medium for deep dive blogging, keep it up to date! Someone is always watching.

4. Host events and ask friends to invite people you don't know

Hosting a party is a form of giving to your community of friends. Everyone loves the host and strangers will always stop by for a chat if you’re the host.

Step 4: Take action to target and connect with certain people

Knowing what kind of person or who specifically you want to connect with requires just as much, if not more effort than maintaining a great online presence and hoping the right people find you. If helping strangers find you is inbound marketing, targeting the right people to connect with is sales.

If you know what kind of people you are hoping to meet, go to where they hang out, online and offline.

1. Do lead generation.

LinkedIn is a fantastic way to do lead generation if you know what kind of person you are looking for. For example, when I go to a new market that I am keen to explore and meet people, I go on LinkedIn and filter for first and second-degree connections I have in the location. I often also filter for "current company" or "past company" in order to learn about something specific or for a job opportunity. After finding people who are second degree connected, I ask for an introduction through our mutual connection or add them directly by sending them my cold intro if we have enough things in common.

0 4

2. Go to events.

I know super networker friends who, when they move to a new city or take on a new project that requires meeting people, go to 3-4 events after work a week. It gets tiring for anyone but they know that from each event they will meet at least one person that will be useful to them now or in the future. Find out which events people you care about are going to and get on the guest-list. Start with Facebook events, meetup, Eventbrite (or whatever is popular in the area), once you meet a few people, ask them to invite you to other better-curated events as you are trying to meet more people.

3. Join communities.

There are a lot of Facebook groups, Slack communities, Wechat groups, Telegram groups, subreddits, and many many others that are places where like-minded people gather for resources and support. Finding the right community that is active and friendly with people wanting to participate is extremely powerful. When I moved to San Francisco I joined Women in Tech, a Facebook group. Members often connect with each other for advice, and I was able to connect with extremely senior women at many different organizations who helped pass my resume through to hiring managers.

4. Reach out directly.

Do it on the platform you found them through (e.g. If you found them on LinkedIn do it on LinkedIn, if via a Facebook group do it via Messenger). Remember to use the cold email tactics mentioned in the first section on positioning yourself.

Start building your network early

Start building your network early because it pays back in multiples. Help people where you can, keep finding new people to learn from, and keep sharing what you've learned!

I hope this article can help you find your next mentor, job, client, or even better, community that has all of the above.