Consistent + Sincere
And the one other thing you need them to say about you!
Hey Bright Builders-
I think about this a lot.
In 2010, I worked for Artspace Projects, helping them stabilize eight or ten properties around the country. I was on airplanes all the time. But I was also brand new to Minneapolis. I wanted to build a network. So, every day when I wasn’t traveling, it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner with somebody. I usually picked up the tab, and I didn’t have any money, so THAT was tough, but I just kept at it. I remember going home to my wife one day after about sixteen months of this hectic life and saying to Kim, “I’m done with this. I can’t network. I am burnt out. I can’t do it anymore.”
She looked at me and said, “Just keep going. Just a little bit more.”
Now, I have Kim to thank for much of what I’ve accomplished, so when she talks, I listen. And it was one of those things where two months after her encouragement, and after I kept going “just a little bit more,” the world started turning, my phone started ringing, and that year and a half of time I put in networking started to pay off — just a little.
To be clear, I continue to be surprised how much of that year and a half of networking DIDN’T pay off immediately BUT paid off ten years later when I started my own company.
I remember vividly the day I received a phone call from a city planner in a suburban Minnesota city. He needed help on a project they (the city) were trying to get off the ground and they’d been told that I was the guy, to use his words, “unstick what’s stuck.” At the end of the conversation, I asked who had referred me. And from out of the blue popped a name from a woman I had coffee with regularly ten years prior. Let’s call her Anne. Eventually, Anne retired from real estate, and our connection was more intermittent (I’d run into her getting coffee in the neighborhood occasionally), but this relationship we had sustained, no agenda save making a connection, paid off ten years later when, apparently, I had managed to still remain “top of mind”.
And I think one of the keys to networking is not going in with an “ask”. You’re not there to get something from someone. Some of the worst networking is when somebody sits down with you for the first time, and it’s a sales pitch ten seconds in. You’re there to make a connection and to meet someone and to learn about them, and maybe they can help you, but hopefully, maybe you can help them too.
All of this is to say that networking is slow, and the pay-off can be far, far in the distance.
Distant, yet dramatic.
So you have to be patient.
And yet, you also have to be consistent.
And remember that networking isn’t always about you. Sometimes, it’s just about making connections for other people in the world - people for whom your small gesture, that easy lift, is a Herculean feat they can’t do for themselves.
When I was working at Timberland Partners, this young man reached out to me. Let’s call him Dave. Dave had just graduated from Northwestern. He was an engineer, if I remember correctly. Okay, maybe he wasn’t an engineer, but he definitely was not in the real estate field. (Do you see how the details are already fuzzy?)
But I’m going to tell you what wasn’t fuzzy.
Dave told me two things. He said, “I’m smart, and I’m consistent, Sean.”
We talked about his job hunt. He was searching job boards but couldn't find a thing.
“I really want to get into real estate. But how do I do it?”
I told him: “I usually know about every job before it’s posted on the job board because somebody in my network couldn't find the right person at the right time. You need to know people like me who get those calls from other real estate people asking for recommendations BEFORE they post the job.”
I could see his mind working. He was thinking.
“Okay, “ he said. “That makes sense”.
Now I’m going to fast forward through Dave’s success because, unlike the hero’s journey in a Disney movie, we don’t have the next ninety minutes, but…
This. Kid. Was. Consistent. In. Networking.
Three months later, he called me up to tell me that he had studied for his real estate license and passed the test. Did he need a real estate license? Not really. But he’d done something that signaled his commitment, and he reached out to let me know.
I was busy at the time. I had zero opportunities for him, BUT he was back on my radar.
He followed up every 2-3 months. Sometimes to share a funny story. Sometimes to ask about my projects. But always to let me know that he was still alive. Still curious. Still determined.
After the third or fourth time he reached out, I received an e-mail from a friend at a well-known local development shop who was looking for an entry-level associate. I called the guy back and suggested he interview Dave.
Needless to say, Dave got the job.
Dave stayed at that job for three years and then reached out to me and told me he wanted to invest in his own real estate. He’d found a duplex he wanted to house hack, but he was short twenty grand. He needed his first investor.
I wrote him a check.
He paid me back. On time.
Fast forward a few years, and Dave found a partner and an investor to fund his real estate investment group.
And now, in 2023, if I had to hire Dave, I’d have to look really hard at whether I could squeeze him into the budget. That’s how successful Dave is now. Within ten years, he went from an entry-level associate to a successful businessman.
Was all of this success a sole product of networking? Of course not. Everything in between is hard work. And, candidly, sometimes it’s a grind.
But, consistent and sincere networking created that first opportunity.
So this is what I’m telling you.
Network. Not to exhaustion, of course, but to make connections.
And if you’re sitting across from someone in your network, wondering what’s in it for you, and you can’t figure it out….wait ten years. And in the meantime?
Do something for them.
Stay tuned. Next week, we’re back to our Dreamland Development! Looking for a community in your area? Cohorts is a small, vetted, private group of real estate operators that meet regularly, build relationships, and share resources to grow their real estate businesses together.
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