Create Your Own Luck: Understanding the Serendipity of Networking
Last year, I was sitting in a local coffee shop here in Orlando, and it was fairly crowded that time of day with no free tables. A couple of people wandered in and looked for a place to sit. Since I was sitting alone at a 4-top, I said they could sit with me and talk, and I would just do my work with my earbuds in.
They sat down, but rather than be rude, I introduced myself first, and they did the same. (Let's call them Bob and Katie). We ended up talking about what we did — they were in personal finance — for nearly an hour. We talked about how they could use content marketing to promote their work, and they made me feel guilty about not being smarter with my money. (Not on purpose, of course.)
A couple weeks later, Bob invited me out for lunch, and said we could meet after his other meeting at the local business club downtown. As we chatted, he told me about the guy he had been meeting with — we'll call him Cal — who worked at a company that had developed an artificial intelligence tool for online marketing. I must have sounded really interested, because Bob called Cal and said, "if you haven't left the club yet, come on over."
Five minutes later, Cal was sitting with us and explaining to me about his company's work. We decided to meet for coffee a couple weeks later, where I got a thorough rundown on how they worked and what their capabilities were.
It was so fascinating that I've introduced Cal to a guy who does B2G (business-to-government) sales and could use a tool like Cal's to help his email campaigns. I've invited Cal to join a local networking group here in Orlando and start attending our monthly luncheons. And I even introduced him to John Wall, one half of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast, and suggested that John interview Cal for his podcast.
All of that happened because I happened to talk with a couple of strangers at a coffee shop.
That's the power of Serendipity, and I think it's one of the most important components of networking.
How You Got From There to Here
Serendipity is the idea that you will meet the right person with the right opportunity in the right place at the right time.
It's that one-in-a-million opportunity that gets you introduced to someone who has an opportunity for you that fixes a problem, results in a collaboration, creates a new income source, gets you a new job, or completely turns your life in a brand new direction. This new opportunity doesn't have to happen immediately; it could take years. But just by meeting that person in the first place, you are now open to having some cool new things happen to you.
I can think of four people I have met seemingly by chance who, just by knowing them, have led to some amazing professional opportunities for me. And when I think about how I met them, it was literally because I was in the right place at the right time.
I think of my friend, Darrin, who through a multi-link chain of introductions and referrals, led me to meeting Kyle, my co-author on Branding Yourself (the 3rd edition of which was released this month). That book led to writing No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls, which led to a side hustle of ghostwriting books.
Or how meeting Darrin led me to joining a social network where I connected with another guy who owned a company that hired me. I ended up becoming the owner of that company six years later.
Or how having the freedom to own my own company also made it very easy to move from Indianapolis to Orlando two years ago. (I'm not saying I blame Darrin for this last one, but I do think about him on 95+ degree days. . .)
As you look back on the long river of your life and your career, think of how you ended up where you are right now. Who led you to this point? Who introduced you to them? And how did you meet that person?
As you look back on the long river of your life, think about the accomplishments you've made and awards you've won along the way. What are the skills you used to achieve them? How did you get those skills? Who influenced you to pursue them?
As you look back on the long river of your life, think about your mentors and the people you've learned from. How did you meet them? Who introduced you? What opportunities did they bring to you? Now think about the people you've met who have looked up to you for guidance and mentorship. Who introduced them to you? What opportunities have you brought to them?
In all those situations, I'm willing to bet we can point to someone — or a few someones — who led to those jobs, those accomplishments, and those relationships.
And when other people look at the rivers of their lives, where will you fit? Who did you guide or influence? What seemingly ordinary meeting actually became a turning point in someone else's life, even 14 years after you first met?
Create Serendipity Through Networking
Of course, all of your major life events happened because of someone else. You met the right person at the right time so they could end up being an important influence in your life.
But the odds of you walking out your door on the first day of your networking journey and bumping into that person on your very own Damascus Road are staggering. I mean, the odds of it happening to someone are high, but the odds of it happening to you are miniscule. You're better off buying a lottery ticket the day you want to buy a house.
Instead, you have to increase your odds by meeting as many people as you can. The more people you talk to, the more connections you make. The more connections you make, the more relationships you develop. And the more relationships you develop, the more likely you'll meet that person who has something special in store for you
(But don't just greet people with a quick handshake and a business card, before darting off to meet the next person. You need to be intentional and deliberate, and cultivate your relationships.)
Just like an athlete will spend countless hours practicing their sport, you have to attend countless networking events and introduce yourself to countless people. Those events and introductions will eventually pay off by connecting with, not the first, not the tenth, and not even the hundredth person you meet, but with your thousandth.
Eventually, by constantly networking, you will meet that person who leads to an unexpected new opportunity for you and takes your life in a whole new direction.
Those two people I met in the coffee shop? That wasn't my first ever time in a coffee shop. I've been in more coffee shops than you've had hot meals. They weren't the first ever strangers I've introduced myself to. I have met hundreds and hundreds of people over the years.
And I can think of a few dozen people who I've met through networking events, through social media, or even because I reached out to a stranger at a coffee shop, who have played an important role in my life, or I've played an important one in theirs.
That next person is out there, waiting for you, just as you're waiting for them. So don't be afraid to meet someone new and get to know them a little better. Who knows what kind of impact they'll have in your life?
Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency with clients throughout the United States. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and a newspaper humor columnist since 1994. He has written several radio and stage plays, and numerous business articles. Erik was the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL, and now serves on their board of directors.