‘Guerrilla networking’: how to build connections with style and speed

Wednesday 26 May 2021
A self-taught guerrilla networker shares what he’s learned about building strong and lasting relationships on the go
Person holding balls on light in their hand

Networking is an important skill, regardless of the industry you’re in. Yet traditional networking – building up potentially useful social and professional contacts in large numbers – doesn’t suit everyone. After a year of lockdowns, social distancing and changes to working practices, there’s been a real sense of disconnect. The need for genuine, human connection has never been more pressing.

Fostering a genuine connection to build authentic relationships is the essence of guerrilla networking. It’s not a new concept, but it resonates today like never before.

“Traditional networking is very much a numbers game,” says Danial Naqvi, a self-taught guerrilla networker and PhD student at the University of Melbourne. “Everything networking stands for is transactional; it’s tit-for-tat. You do something for me, I’ll do something for you.”

But, says Danial, if we really want to establish lasting relationships built on honesty and trust, we need to adopt a ‘guerrilla networking mindset’, which is about adding value to another person’s life personally or professionally. It’s giving for giving’s sake. “Giving more than you take is 100% the best way to go,” he says.

So, how do you go about guerrilla networking? We’ve put together some top tips from Danial’s presentation at the recent CMI Guerrilla Networking webinar, to help you get started on your guerrilla networking journey.

The basics

“Guerrilla networking is about being strategic,” says Danial. “There’s a reason you’re building your network: you’re trying to build long-lasting relationships built on trust and honesty.”

The following quick tips can be helpful to keep in mind:

  • Give more than you take
  • Have respect for others
    Be yourself
  • Be humble and have patience
  • Creating your guerrilla network

Although there is no formal route to follow with guerrilla networking, the ultimate aim is to build up a following or network of people you are genuinely interested in, whether that’s using LinkedIn, Twitter or through in-person events (once they start up again).

Where to network

  • Social media platforms: LinkedIn is highly popular as a networking platform, while Twitter can be beneficial to reach out to people informally.
  • Email: Reaching out by email remains an effective networking tool, providing it’s personalised to the recipient.
  • Apps: Networking apps such as Shapr or the event networking app Bizzabo are effective ways to network through your phone.
  • CSR: Get involved in CSR initiatives you’re interested in to improve your visibility. Consider volunteering, becoming a trustee or a non-executive director.
  • Training courses or person-to-person events: Training courses to develop CPD can be a great way of meeting people in the same field or sector as yourself.

Solidify your interests

Danial recommends identifying your own interests and skills before reaching out to others.

“What excites you most is the most important thing to think about before you start networking. You do not want to go in as a disinterested party – you want to be invested in the person who you're networking with.”

Here are some starting points:

  • Interests: What do you like learning about? What challenges or intrigues you? What would you like to know more about?
  • Professional: What business functions do you find difficult to understand or challenging? What are your ambitions? Where do you aspire to be in five, ten or 15 years’ time?
  • Extracurricular: What do you do to relax? What is something you’d like to get into? What projects are you working on right now?

Search for people who match your interests

While it may be tempting to aim straight for the CEO of a company – don’t jump in at the deep end, advises Danial. Often, CEOs and those in senior leadership will have a lot of gatekeepers – people who are protecting their time. Instead, use the “path of least resistance” to ultimately connect you to the people who will help you the most. That may be a peer in a different company, a junior analyst or an HR director.

“You need to hone in on who exactly would be most helpful to you,” says Danial. “Always start with people you know, through school, university or other activities, people who can help you get to where you want to go.” These people may be able to introduce you to other connections who match your interests, who may be able to introduce you to others, and so on.

Define your value proposition

Think about what you can bring to the relationship and what, in particular, you can help them with. Danial recommends asking yourself these two questions:

  1. Is this valuable to me?
  2. Will this be valuable to the person I want to connect with?

Stand out from the crowd – personalise your approach

Platforms such as LinkedIn have become saturated over the years, says Danial. So, instead of sending out generic copy-and-paste introductory notes or messages as you may with traditional networking, personalise your messages to the person you’re reaching out to – make it specific to them. To do this, Danial advises conducting research to find out what your contact’s interests are or what’s important to them. Their LinkedIn profile or website may provide some useful hints.

When composing your first message to a potential connection, think about:

  • Purpose: What is your purpose in contacting this person?
  • Intentions: What are your intentions? What do you want to give? What do you want?
  • Perspective: How might the person want to be approached or contacted?

Be respectful of their time

The first time you get in touch with someone, make sure your message is relatively brief. If you have a question to ask, ensure it’s minor. “Be direct, be honest and be respectful,” advises Danial. “You don’t want to be a burden on their time with something huge. It’s then up to them to respond if they think it’s valuable for them or not.”

Maintaining your guerrilla network

Ultimately, maintaining relationships with your contacts is about staying in people’s minds. How do you do this?

  • Make use of a Client Relationship Manager (CRM) tool, which helps you stay in contact by scheduling regular meetings and catch-ups
  • Be genuinely curious and interested whenever you speak to your contacts
  • Engage and give value – it might be offering a solution to a problem or engaging every so often on social media.
  • “Continuing to show up and actively engaging with someone can make a world of difference,” says Danial. Even if it’s saying happy birthday to someone on LinkedIn or congratulating them on a new job. You have to be equally valuable to them as they are to you. Give them a reason to stick around.”

You can watch this webinar in full here for all of Danial’s advice. If you’re looking to expand your network, check out CMI’s upcoming digital events for the opportunity to meet like-minded professionals. See you there!

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