The first time I tried to rebuild my network, I failed miserably. I moved to the Connecticut Shoreline from New York City and took several months off to recover from the burnout of a Wall Street job.
With my wife, a professor, working locally, I decided to try to build a career in New Haven. But, with no jobs that fit both my experience and interests, I needed to take a creative approach.
I soon found myself working on a small app startup. I dove into the process and eventually started writing code. It was an opportunity to build knowledge and experience. But, I didn’t spend a second thinking about building my network and community.
After six months our team fell apart. And, the consequences of not building a community were severe. My only relationships were with the three other people on my team and my family. I had no emotional support network of peers to carry me through the failure. I had no coaches or mentors to help determine the next step. And, I had few friends to help find another job locally.
In desperation, I accepted a job back in New York City. It would require renting a 2nd house closer to the job, commuting 2 hours each way, and spending many weeknights away from my family, which would soon include a newborn baby girl.
It would be tough. Perhaps it was foolish. But, it seemed easier than rebuilding my network.
At first, I enjoyed the job. But, it was an impossible situation to maintain. After leaving, I decided to try living and working in Connecticut a second time. But, this time I would focus on building my community first.
I didn’t see the benefits overnight but about a year in I began to notice a difference. I had a considerable community of casual friends and a number of strong connections. And through my community, I found multiple job leads, comfort and happiness in a new community, and sponsors for events I host.
A few strategies helped build a new network.
#1 – Connect With a Purpose and Authenticity.
Accepting a meeting without a purpose is risky. Are you going to listen to an hour-long pitch for a product you don’t want? Is it going to be a waste of time? Would you accept a meeting request if you don’t know the agenda?
Recognize what you want, make sure it’s a reasonable request, and be upfront about it. You may want information — what job opportunities are out there? Or, you may want help — could this person speak at an event?
If someone rejects a meeting because he or she cannot or does not want to help, then both of you have saved time. But, I have been surprised by how much others want to help.
#2 – Find a Way to Give. But, Leave Your Ego.
Every community needs something. And, if you can genuinely contribute, doors will open. But, as a newcomer, you probably don’t know what the community needs. Instead of jumping in, solicit ideas from people who know the community better than you do.
For example, I organize a bi-monthly event where creators share projects they are working on. At each event, we bring together a fantastic collection of entrepreneurs, designers, and techies. The event has been a great success and is now sponsored by the City of New Haven’s Office of Economic Development Office. But, the idea wasn’t mine. It was suggested by a longtime resident and very successful local founder.
#3 – Become a Targeted Event Regular.
You can only do so many coffees. Events are a great way to meet a lot of people in a short period of time. But, they can be exhausting. And, many of us find it hard to turn a 5-minute conversation at an event into a lasting connection.
Rather than trying to go to every event, it may be more useful to pick one or two you can attend every time. You will begin to see the same faces over and over again. And, this familiarity can form the foundation for your relationships. (See the mere-exposure effect.)
#4 – Take a Role that Requires Connecting.
This does not have to be a full-time job and you may not want it to be. But, a volunteer or temporary position with highly connective traits can make it much easier to build your network.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to support my New Haven’s efforts to understand the entrepreneurship community. The role provided the opportunity to interview several awesome entrepreneurs I would have had no other reason to connect with.
#5 – Reach Out to Weak and Distant Connections.
When you first arrive in a new community, it can be easier to reactivate dormant or distant ties – an old classmate, a friend-of-a-friend, or a college alum. Because newcomers need a lot of information (best schools, companies hiring, useful networking events), it’s easy to find a purpose for a conversation.
These connections can be very informative. But, make sure you are asking the right people the right questions. You don’t want to ask a local CEO and complete stranger to lunch to discuss the best schools, but you could easily ask an old classmate.
You will not be able to build a new network in a new city overnight. Set your goals with the understanding that it takes time — research shows it takes about 40-60 hours on average to become “casual friends” (How to make friends? Study reveals time it takes). (Although, time spent is not necessarily the best predictor of the strength of a relationship.)
But, with a clear and persistent strategy, building a network in a new community is not just possible, it’s rewarding.
– Nick (@nicholascaplan)
Do you have any other ideas? Or, do you disagree with any of our suggestions? Comment below or tweet @teamgoodio.