Never eat alone, and Other Secrets to Success I Learned from Keith Ferrazzi

I’ve got to admit that I go through phases in which I’m a sucker for business books. Every now and then I start to dream of running my own company, getting rich quick, being my own manager . . . I think about how nice it would be to be in charge of my own schedule so that I could spend every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at the golf course (because we all know those who run their own business can do so successfully spending every Tuesday and Thursday at the golf course, right?). So every now and then I visit my local Half-Priced Books and pick up a couple business books for a dollar a piece from the clearance section (because we all know that’s where the best books are, right?). Let’s just be honest, though, most business books just aren’t that good. Sure, there are classics—Drucker, Covey, and Carnegie to name a few—but all too often the slick new business book that’s guaranteed to usher in an era of previously unreached success is nothing more than an awkwardly long motivational speech, encouraging you to get up, reach out, and take the world by storm, only you leave you without a foundation and looking for the next slick business book a few weeks (or days) later.

One book I will recommend, though, is Keith Ferrazzi’s, “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success One Relationship at a Time.” It’s a book about building a network of relationships and doing business relationally, utilizing that network you build. As my particular job is 100% dependent upon this kind of networking, I was looking forward to it. Without further ado, here are five things I learned from Never Eat Alone; five things you should know when building a network of connections that may prove invaluable to your business (whatever it is):

(1) Never Eat Alone: “The dynamics of a network are similar to those of a would-be celebrity in Hollywood: Invisibility is a fate far worse than failure . . . In building a network, remember: Above all, never, ever disappear” (p. 94)

The point is simple: Keep your calendar full and always include others in what you’re doing. If you stop by Starbucks on the way to work, leave a half-hour earlier and have an acquaintance meet you there. Stop going through the McDonald’s drive-thru when you can meet for a quick bite at the corner deli. Even better, schedule events (lunches, dinners, etc) to which you invite two or three people, all from different social circles. Not only will you remain visible, but you’ll be broadening their circles as they meet one another, too (after all, networking is just as much, if not more, about what you can offer others, than what they can offer you!). Always remain visible.

(2) Follow Up or Fail: “How often do you find yourself standing face-to-face with someone you’ve met before, but you can’t recall their name?” Ferrazzi asks.

“We live in a fast-paced, digital world that bombards us with information. Our inboxes are a constant procession of new and old names demanding our attention. Our brains are in constant overdrive trying to keep track of all the bits and bytes and names that cross our desk each and every day. It’s natural that to stay sane, we must forget or ignore most of the data clamoring for a sliver of real estate in our already crowded noggins. In such a world, it’s incomprehensible that only a small percentage of us decide to follow up once we’ve met someone new.”

The point is, if you don’t want to be forgotten by that all important contact you just met, if you want to win the clamoring battle for a spot on one’s radar, you must follow up and you must do so timely. According to Ferrazzi, that’s within 12 to 24 hours after you meet someone new. If you meet someone in the morning, email them later that day. If you meet at night, email first thing in the morning. Always express your gratitude, offer to meet again for a second follow up meeting, and focus on what you can do for them (not what they can offer you!). And always be brief and to the point.

(3) Be Interesting: The first two lessons learned from Never Eat Alone are great, but in order for your lunch with acquaintances to go well, and in order for the newly met contact to want to have a follow-up conversation, you must be interesting. Your colleagues must be able to answer, “would you want to meet for lunch (and, naturally, sit with me for an hour or two while we eat)?” positively. To want to do so, you must be someone worth talking to.

Get involved in the world around you. Pat attention to the news. Subscribe to a magazine or newspaper (or website). Have a unique point of view, something that you stand up for or a cause you believe in. Develop a niche. Learn new things. Know your business, know the business of those you’re meeting, and know what your business can provide theirs.

(4) Find Mentors, Find Mentees, Repeat: Ferrazzi writes, “No process in history has done more to facilitate the exchange of information, skills, wisdom, and contacts than mentoring. Young men and women learned their trade by studying as apprentices under their respective craftsmen. Young artists developed their individual style only after years of working under elder masters. New priests apprenticed for a decade or more with older priests to become wise religious men themselves. When finally these men and women embarked on their own, they had the knowledge and the connections to succeed in their chosen field” (p. 274).

One of the best ways to expand your horizons is to study the lives of those who know more than you. And, yes, there are others who know more than you. As Ferrazzi writes, “Mentoring is a very deliberate activity that requires people to check their ego at the door, hold back from resenting other people’s success, and consciously strive to build beneficial relationships whenever the opportunity rises.”

At the same time, the mentoring relationship is not a one-way street, just as networking is not about building relationships solely for one’s benefit. Mentoring is “a lifelong process of giving and receiving in a never-ending role as both master and apprentice.” As much as you will learn from a mentor invested in your well being, know that you, too, have just as much opportunity to impact those experienced souls around you.

(5) Build It Before You Need It: One of the first lessons in Ferrazzi’s work is one of my favorites. Build it before you need it. Ferrazzi notes the common perception of networking being a desperate individual passing out business cards every chance he gets, trying to get a job, make a sale, etc. The reality is, however, that those who have the largest circle of contacts are those who reach out as a friend and build relationships for the sake of relationships well before they need anything at all. I’ll leave it with Ferrazzi’s sage advice: “don’t wait until you’re out of a job, or on your own, to begin reaching out to others. You’ve got to create a community of colleagues and friends before you need it. Others around you are far more likely to help you if they already know and like you. Start gardening now.”

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