When I arrived in Mexico City at the age of 23, I was eager to meet others in the financial technology (fintech) field who could mentor me, advocate for me, share local information and provide me with more opportunities to grow in my career. While it would have been helpful to have family or college-related connections to open doors in my new city, I had neither to lean on at that time.
Today, I’m just one degree away from connecting with nearly anybody in the fintech system – but I didn’t get there by accident. It took intentional steps to build relationships with people who could support my career goals. Most business owners and entrepreneurs understand the value of networking, but it’s a skill that needs honing just like any other. While the ways we’re connecting have changed since last year, the good news is the mindset and skills needed to create a strong, supportive professional network have not.
Here are a few of my most effective strategies for making more meaningful and authentic relationships in your professional networks:
Meet people where they are
Whether networking face-to-face or virtually, the first step is to make it easy for someone to say “yes” to a conversation. Before I moved to Mexico, I began networking with people over Skype. Once I arrived, I went out of my way to meet with folks personally in whatever way worked best for them. Pre-COVID, this meant inviting people to join me for lunch or coffee, or going to where people’s offices were in different neighborhoods. This was even more exciting and beneficial as a newcomer because I got to see a lot of Mexico City while venturing out to visit people on their turf. These days, due to the pandemic, I rely more on social media channels like LinkedIn, WeExchange and WhatsApp to connect with professionals in my field.
It’s not all about you
If you’re shy about networking because you feel selfish or uncomfortable asking for help, it’s best to shift your mindset. People like sharing advice. Be humble and give them space to be helpful to you. Whenever you meet someone new, be curious about their needs and challenges before you launch into your own pitch. When you’re sincerely interested in people, not just in what they offer, it builds genuine trust.
Bringing both empathy and understanding helps to transform relationships into a more trusted, human connection. This makes it much easier for the person to say, “Oh yes, I’d love to help out my friend,” when you need assistance in the future. And, provide even more warm introductions to more valuable connections.
It’s okay to not be the expert
When I started my fintech career at Village Capital, I remember going to the office of the CFO of HSBC to seek a new sponsorship. He asked me about fintech and venture capital, and even though I was leading the fintech program, I was honest with him and said I still had a lot to learn. At the time, it did cross my mind that this made me seem like an amateur and could reflect poorly on the program. But, to the contrary, my honesty gave him the opportunity to teach me about his experience and offer advice. Although we weren’t able to lock in the sponsorship, he made time to mentor the entrepreneurs in the program and always supported me after that introductory meeting.
Use the “ask for five” rule
Meeting people at random isn’t likely to lead to career-changing connections, so leverage the contacts you already have to find others with valuable backgrounds and influence. Before I arrived in Mexico City, I had just one local contact. I Skyped with her before I left L.A., and she said, “Great, you like social impact? You should speak to these five people.” I set up meetings with all of them, and when I was done speaking with each one I’d ask, “Who else should I know?” This got the ball rolling, and soon I was connecting with other talented professionals who were relevant to my path.
80 percent of success is just showing up
Because I only had a few acquaintances and no family in my new city, I had a lot of time on my hands. As Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” And that, I did. I used my time to attend a lot of events on social enterprise, fintech, and venture capital, which I was thrilled to find were going on every week. Regardless of the content, just by being there and picking up conversations that often continued through the taco after-parties, I made many great business contacts and friends along the way.
Do your homework to reach your goals
I usually attend events for a specific purpose like fundraising or seeking partnerships. Whenever possible, I look through the attendance roster and reach out to interesting people to set up introductory meetings; even for just a 15-minute coffee break. It’s best to focus these first conversations on casually getting to know each other and learning about mutual interests. Then, set up another formal meeting outside the event where it’s not too busy and stressful. While most events are now virtual, you can still rely on membership and attendee lists to find people of interest you’d like to meet or potentially do business with.
Play the long game, and pay it forward
Networking is a little like planting seeds. You never know when a connection may bear fruit in the future. So, plant seeds generously and be generous with your network in return.
At Village Capital, we had a company called Mutuo Financiera in our program. One of its entrepreneurs recently left the company to start his own debt-funding firm, Addem Capital. When I reconnected with him a few years later, he said it would be great to work together again. A year later, we needed debt and his firm became our first debt investor.
Connecting people in my circle is another way I pay it forward. For example, one of the Village Capital participants, ePesos, was seeking advice from payments experts to grow their digital wallet for the base of the pyramid. I reached out to the country manager for SWIFT Mexico to join one of the workshops as a mentor so that they could meet. They were able to learn so much from each other that ePesos ended up inviting him to join their Board, where he’s added a lot of value over the past few years.
Bottom line: be the kind of person you’d want to have in your network: someone who is honest, authentic, and gives as much value as they receive, and your network will open doors for you when you need that the most.