It isn't who you know - it's who knows you

I'm terrible at networking. I forget people's names minutes after meeting them, I never have business cards and lose the ones I'm given, and I can't go five minutes without burbling some nonsense. But I recognise that networking is a skill and, like any skill, it takes practice to succeed.

I've always been told that success isn't always about what you know, but more about who you know. So how does someone who is introverted, bad at small talk, and terrible at sending follow-up emails get to know people?

The answer, as always, is to let other people do the hard work.

I realise that asking lottery-winners for advice on how to pick your numbers is not a reliable method for becoming a millionaire - but I'd like to explain how I network and where it has got me.

Several years ago, I lost my job. I knew it was coming, but it still felt shitty. At midday, I rang my wife, told her what had happened and said that I was coming home.

"What about your presentation tonight?" she said. I'd forgotten that I had a Mobile Monday talk in my diary. Frankly, I couldn't think of anything worse than standing up in a room full of employed people and bleating on about my side projects.

"Nah. I'm just not up for it," I said.

"Look, you never know who is going to be there. You can enjoy your unemployment tomorrow."

So, I did the talk. I chatted with people (whose names I instantly forgot), picked up business cards (which are still in a pile somewhere), and drank a bit too much free wine. Then went home to cry.

A few days later, I had an interview with a trendy new startup! The very first thing that the CEO said to me was "Nice to meet you - I loved your talk at Mobile Monday last week!"

I got the job. Not necessarily because of how awesome a speaker I am - but it certainly helped that I received a round of applause from people in the industry.

Several months later and I was touting for work again. A casual acquaintance told me her firm was hiring. I went in to meet the manager and, again, almost the first thing she said was "We saw your talk at Mobile Monday - it was great!"

Two birds - one stone 🙂

More recently, I've got speaking gigs because people have said that they've watched my talks online. I've had more interviews where people have asked for me by name after reading one of my blog posts. I've had journalists call me up for "expert commentary" because they've seen that I've been posting on social media knowledgeably about a specific subject.

Relentless self-promotion is exhausting and - I think - off-putting to most of your audience. That's not the aim here.

So here are my vague thoughts on how to get people to know you:

  • Don't talk about yourself - talk about what interests you.
  • Don't insert yourself mindlessly into a conversation - build up a rapport with people you admire.
  • Don't be a "brand" - people see through that.
  • Do put yourself out there - go to events where you have only a vague interest in the subject.
  • Do ask. Tell people you'd like to present, or write a blog post, or help them organise.
  • Do be prepared to fail. Most people won't remember the things which go wrong; but the effort pays dividends.

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6 thoughts on “It isn't who you know - it's who knows you”

  1. Matt Jukes says:

    This is soooo spot on! The only reason I give talks ~ and a lot of the benefits of my blogging ~ is that it short-circuits the standard networking nightmares!

  2. said on


    Nice article thanks.

    Worth mentioning that for many people who don't like "networking", their experience of forcing themselves to do it for years is ... zero outcome.

    So I guess the message might be - if you do it, you might get lucky - if you don't, you definitely won't.

    I've had quite a few conversations with younger professionals asking me why putting themselves through the pain seems to go unrewarded .

    Reply | Reply to original comment on
    1. Dragon Cotterill says:


      I spent years offering to do talks about cyber security at various conferences (this was way back before it became an in thing). I did the social media thing for a while on Twitter (when it first launched), I wrote a blog. Finally I got the opportunity to do a talk... and only 4 people attended.

      So much effort and zero rewards, so I just thought "stuff it!" and threw in the towel.

  3. Paul Kelly says:

    I'm curious because in my RSS reader this article starts with an image of a cat typing on a keyboard, but when I come to your website there is no sign of the image. Was the image in an early draft, captured by the feed aggregator, and you later removed it?

    1. @edent says:

      Hi Paul. It's a featured image. I sometimes put a cat in there so people don't have to stare at my face. It isn't part of the feed though - so your reader must have picked it up from the Open Graph tags. Thanks for reading 🙂


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