When you show up to a networking event, you’ve likely got in mind the names of a few bigwigs you’re hoping to connect with.
But if you ignore everyone else so you can make a beeline for the fancy folks, you could be missing out on tremendous opportunities.
That’s according to Tim Ferriss, life-hacker, investor, and author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” among other books.
Ferriss credits much of the success of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” published in 2007, to the network he built at South by Southwest (SXSW) that same year.
On a recent episode of his podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show,” Ferriss shared a presentation he gave at last year’s SXSW, in which he highlighted common networking mistakes. One of the most costly errors? Dismissing people who don’t look important.
“You should behave here [at SXSW] like everyone you interact with has the potential … to get you a cover story in The New York Times,” Ferriss says. “Because many of them do.”
Ferriss gives an example of how this strategy has worked out for him in the past. At a movie screening at SXSW in 2007, he noticed that the guy in front of him had massive forearms. “I was like, ‘Dude, what is up with the forearms?'”
Once they got to talking, it turned out the “dude” was filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s brother. Potentially as a result, Ferriss ended up with collaborating with Spurlock a few years later when Spurlock profiled him for an episode of “A Day in the Life.”
The idea that you should look to expand your network beyond people with impressive certifications or achievements isn’t unique to Ferriss.
As Andrew Vest of the Young Entrepreneur Council writes on Forbes, “Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles. Someone you meet may ‘just’ be a clerk, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them.”
Meanwhile, Sree Sreenivasan, former faculty member of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, told Columbia Magazine, “You should connect with people at all levels.” In fact, he said, entry-level folks might be willing and able to show you how to navigate a particular company or industry. He used to tell his fellow faculty: “Be nice to your students, because you’re going to work for them one day.”
On a related note, Ferriss advises against heading for the people with the most clout or the biggest social media presence.
“You might be tempted to go straight for the person who has the biggest megaphone, the biggest site, the most Twitter followers. And the problem with that is that you’re going to be one of 1,000 people who pitch this person while they’re here [at SXSW]. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it won’t work.”
Instead, here’s a more indirect route that Ferriss used at SXSW back in 2007: Ask panel moderators who those VIP guests view as thought leaders, or the “niche folks that they read who are very influential.” Then approach those people and invite them out for a drink.
If one of those thought leaders ends up covering you on their website, all those VIPs you admire will end up reading the post.
Says Ferriss, “It’s amazing what miracles can come of that.”
Author: Shana Lebowitz
Shana is a strategy reporter for Business Insider. Before joining Business Insider in April 2015, she covered mental health for Greatist and personal finance for LearnVest. Shana studied English and psychology at Brandeis University and received her master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University.