I work hard and I play hard. Me without a social network is like a fish without water.
When I made the decision to move away from the network I had spent eight years establishing, I knew I was going to have to use what I learned to rebuild in a fraction of the time. It’s no secret that I love and live the infamous Mythbusters axiom ‘if it’s worth doing – it’s worth overdoing’. This is the story of how I hacked a city of sixteen million to build a network of hundreds of friends, land millions in potential business deals, and became a VIP at black tie parties.
Four months ago, I moved to Los Angeles. I wasn’t doing it for a job. I didn’t do it with a girlfriend. I had no family to greet me.
All things considered, I was headed to a place where where no one knew my name. That may not sound too horrific, but when you consider my past – the experience is seen in a different light. I grew up wondering why everyone around me was able to make friends while I was seen as the weirdo that no one (including my own family) understood. Call it fate, destiny, or just a logical outcome. Whatever you call it, this was the seed for what became my obsession with communication. As I started to “figure it out”, my personality changed from an awkward introvert to an extreme extrovert.
Over the years, my acquired proficiency enabled me to develop a massive network of friends, regularly acquire new business through referrals, and gain a reputation for being a likable dude. The same skills applied in my work as a marketer led to results that far exceeded those of my colleagues. I stopped calling it marketing and started calling it what it really was – social engineering.
I remember a time in college when I heard about a party happening at an upper-classmen’s apartment. It didn’t strike me as odd when everyone was arriving from other places and unavailable to go with me so I went by myself. I remember arriving and feeling so disconnected that it was as if I wasn’t even there. What I didn’t understand at the time was the difference between ‘attending’ and ‘engaging’. It was moments like these that fueled my desire to understand social dynamics – no matter how long it took.
Whether it’s generating a half a million dollars in consulting offers with a single reddit post or manipulating my roommate to a point of complete paranoia, they’ve proven to be skills useful far beyond their origins as a desire to understand how to communicate effectively. It was as I packed the last of my things that I had a mini meltdown. I realized that I was about to leave everything I knew for a place where I was completely alone and had no support if something were to happen. It was at that moment that I knew I needed to channel my anxiety into a solution and I was going to do that using social engineering.
Let’s get back to the move.
Almost a year ago to the day, I bought a one way ticket to London. I had no particular reason to move aside from the desire for a radical change of scenery. When I left for the airport in early November to head to a conference in Mexico I had already rented my condo, ended my lease, sold my car, and packed my life into storage. While the week long conference, dubbed Awesomeness Fest, lived up to its name – it was one particular moment that I’ll remember for a lifetime. When asked if I wanted to join a group for dinner I surprised myself by politely declining. Every logical part of me thought it would be a great idea, but something in my gut told me I needed to go in the opposite direction. It was that subtle pull that put me in the seat next to the guy that made everything I had been working for possible… a decade sooner than if I had done it on my own.
He invited me to Los Angeles for an event he was organizing with a house full of entrepreneurs. I expressed my interest as well as some concern that I had just spent a fair amount of money on a ticket to London as well as jaunts to Prague, Barcelona, and Nice. His response, paying for my travel. A week later I found myself surrounded by people who had a range of experience that was as eclectic as it was impressive. We worked together for a week to structure an organization that would enable us to pool our businesses, our resources, and our teams while sharing equity and working together to build something truly unique. In the formation of this organization, I decided to cancel my ticket to London and head to Los Angeles.
After a rather epic going away party (much of which I don’t remember), I figured I would get all emotional if my sendoff was anything as dramatic. With as little fanfare as possible a few close friends took me to the airport and, after living there for eight years, I quietly said my goodbyes and left Vermont. I arrived in Los Angeles mid-December, just after 1:00 AM on a Sunday with a backpack, a small duffle bag, and my bike. I had a handful of business contacts and a few college acquaintances in the area, but in a city of 16.37 million people – I really didn’t “know” anyone.
Knowing that the combination of living alone, working remotely, and not having a “base” of friends to grow from – it was a very real possibility that my anxiety could get the best of me. The biggest benefit to knowing this about myself was that it offered me the opportunity to use it to my advantage. I identified four key strategies that I had, in some fashion, used in the past to build networks. Having a history of bouts with depression, I made a commitment to myself that I would starve my anxiety of oxygen by channelling my energy into utilizing these strategies. If I allowed the gravity of my radical life decision to overwhelm and render me useless – it was likely to have a more dramatic impact than being bummed I didn’t have weekend plans.
Lying in the middle of the floor of my furniture-less apartment to write in my journal, these were the strategies I committed to utilize.
Strategy #1: Information Trading
People like to be in the know, and they value people who seem to be “in the know”
— My Social Sherpa (@My_SocialSherpa) May 3, 2015
When you sell physical products you need to manufacture more units to make more sales, but when you sell information you can sell the same thing as many times as you like. This is why information trading is the fastest and easiest place to start. What you need is one solid piece of information about something people you want to connect with will be interested in knowing. For me this was a restaurant in Marina Del Ray called Cafe Del Ray that has an kickass brunch with an appetizer, entree, desert and unlimited drinks for just $40. Also, the waiter we had was a fucking riot and I gave him the biggest tip I’ve ever given anyone in my life so it’s an entertaining story to tell.
If you’re super new to a city or just on a short vacation have no fear, there’s a super easy way to do this – even if you arrived yesterday. In fact, last year I used this exact strategy to build a network in Tampa within the week that I was there to visit family. By the end of the week baristas knew my name, I knew about all the local hotspots, and someone invited me to their birthday party.
The first step is to venture into your nearest non-Starbucks coffee shop and buy a coffee. As you go to pay you say to the barista, “I’m new to the area and was wondering what you could recommend the lunch place I couldn’t possibly live without.” It’s an odd question so they’ll think about it for a second and deliver their answer. If there’s no line behind you, ask a clarifying question about their favorite item on the menu, where it’s located, etc. to show genuine interest in their recommendation. Next, follow their recommendation exactly going so far as to order their favorite meal. Tell your waiter that you’re new in town and that the restaurant was highly recommended. Ask what they think about the menu recommendation and open a conversation. After the meal, repeat the earlier process with your waiter by asking for their favorite cafe. Repeat this process again at the new cafe by asking your new barista about their favorite dinner recommendations and again at dinner when you ask the waiter about their favorite bar.
Congratulations, you now have a list of the best places in town as well as the most popular menu items. Bonus points if you spend the next day going back to all of these places to give your appreciation, experience, and feedback about the recommendations to the amazing people that served them to you. I spent a weekend doing this in Los Angeles (along with a few hours reading on the web) and became a relative expert on the west side. Feel free to test that declaration in the comments.
Now that you have information to trade the game is afoot. Start conversations with as many people as possible in coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, and crosswalks. Anywhere you can have an opportunity to have a conversation you can gift people the information you’ve collected. If you’re having trouble starting conversations I recommend practicing the art of complimenting. I say art because it’s certainly not a science, but if you build some skill in well placed compliments you’ll have a stable of new friends in no time. In these conversations, offer as many bits of information as possible. The more you give to other people the more they’re going to want to give to you and the bigger your quiver of information about the new city becomes.
Here’s an example of how it works:
- I asked my friends outside of the city for introductions for people who lived near me and met a guy named Jay
- I went to meet Jay for drinks and see his friend perform in a rock orchestra (because that’s a thing in LA)
- He made friends with a couple and introduced me, together we went to a club in Hollywood to dance… until 6AM
- That couple became good friends and knew that I was looking to move to an apartment that was closer to the beach
- They invited me to brunch with a bunch of their friends and intentionally introduced me to their property manager
- He had one unit facing the marina (out of 504) that was vacant and offered it to me for a hundred dollars less a month
It started with an introduction only to directly result in eight new friends (so far) and one epic apartment overlooking the Marina. It’s all about saying ‘yes’ everywhere possible. Since moving to Los Angeles I have found some of my closest friends at nightclubs, recruited employees at cafes, and even had a legendary pro surfer offer me free lessons.
Some of the people you talk to will always be random strangers, some will offer you their information and become acquaintances, but occasionally these people will become your close friends. All of these outcomes are positive so just let people tell you (in one way or another) where they fall on that spectrum. This isn’t about making fake friends, it’s about sorting through people to find real ones – the people with which you truly enjoy connecting. In this process you’re putting conscious effort into a process that’s normally left to chance. You’re amplifying your outcomes rather than allowing them to happen naturally at a slower pace.
Strategy #2: Connection Leveraging
Deep relationships pay off more than shallow ones.
— My Social Sherpa (@My_SocialSherpa) May 3, 2015
You don’t need more than a handful of friends to start leveraging them into a bigger network. The easiest way to do this is to accept any and all invitations your new friends extend to join them and their other friends at a party, outing, or meetup. Chances are, if you like the people inviting you then you’re going to like their friends the same if not more. Now you are likely to come home with at least a few more new friends. I got invited to a brunch by a couple I had originally met in a bar and canceled a meeting in order to attend. I came home with a possible investor for our company, a new client for our agency, a signed lease on an amazing new apartment, and six new friends (all of whom will soon be my neighbors). I also won the only two beach volleyball games I’ve ever played in my life … just puttin’ that out there.
When you do make friends, make sure to add them on Facebook – this is key. You can further leverage and grow your network by introducing your friends to other people they’d enjoy hanging out with. You can do this through a message and introduction or, more simply, by inviting people from different social circles to the same events. In this way you build the reputation of “being in the know” when it comes to awesome people and events. Realistically speaking it’s because you only invite people you know will get along to events you know they’ll enjoy. You can skew the perception of your abilities by only making gambles you know you’re going to win. Just as if I never played beach volleyball again in my life I would forever have a perfect record.
Strategy #3: Community Building
People are eager to connect and you can play connector.
— My Social Sherpa (@My_SocialSherpa) May 3, 2015
This strategy takes a bit more creativity and effort, but it’s powerful one to utilize. I discovered it on accident, but now I use it on purpose. Every day I wake up, eat breakfast, and venture out to a cafe to work. Over the years I’ve found that I get the most done in busy cafes with noise canceling headphones and deep house music on loop. In this process I tend to hit about five different cafes a week and meet some really awesome people. I’ve always been surprised by the number of people I encounter who are working remotely as designers, developers, marketers, writers, etc. Living in a larger, more technologically connected city, this was amplified and I started to wonder how I was going to keep track of all these unique, passionate, and interesting people.
Knowing that Facebook limits the number of friends you can have to five thousand, I decided to make a group and dubbed it The Cafe Creatives. I invited the people I met to join the group and explained that it was a community of people who roamed the city working from cafes. It didn’t take long before people started inviting people they knew. I amplified that welcoming each new member to the group, posting photos every time I arrived at a new place, and tagging the people I was working with that day. Much to my surprise, the remote workers of Los Angeles were eager to meet and work alongside people like them. It got to the point where a single post would turn an empty cafe into a packed co-working space within a matter of thirty minutes.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to want to connect with other people like you. Even people who have well established roots still welcome a connection to a new friend. When you are the person that connects them to that friend people think you’re awesome because you did something awesome for them … it’s that simple.
Creating a group, focused on it’s members rather than the person who created it, is one of the fastest ways to become “the person to know” and many friends use this strategy as their sole method for generating new business. The key to success in this process is to invest as much as possible into the experience of the people around you… and that brings us to our last strategy.
Strategy #4: Experience Cultivation
People gravitate to those who make them feel good about themselves.
— My Social Sherpa (@My_SocialSherpa) May 3, 2015
In dissecting the personalities of the people I meet I’ve noticed some common themes. Particularly, I’ve identified the one character trait that gives certain people the reputation for being the life of the party and it’s easy to replicate. It’s not about being the funniest, having the best stories, or leading the group. The fastest way to win friends is to go into social situations with the primary objective of ensuring that everyone you’re with has the best, and most memorable, experience possible. Whether that’s finding a better club when the energy is low, luring someone shy to the dance floor and making them comfortable enough to cut loose, or just being sure everyone is included – the people who are the most loved are often the most outwardly benevolent.
Last year I went to Medellin, Colombia to visit some friends and experience the city. One of the people I identified as a stellar example of this personality trait was my good friend Clayton. What I’m about to tell you I learned by asking him to explain his thought process the following morning. I subsequently offered my most sincere appreciation for the experience and for the opportunity to call him my friend.
One night, with some other friends that were visiting, we went out for dinner. Sensing low energy as a result of an awkward situation, Clayton suggested an activity that he knew the person feeling awkward would enjoy. He playfully encouraged us to abandon the idea of heading home after dinner, to completely empty dive bar, and bought a bottle of the local favorite – Guaro. It didn’t matter that we were the only five non-employees in the bar, it didn’t matter that the “local favorite” tasted like you were drinking Twizzlers, and it didn’t matter that it was a Wednesday night. The only thing that we could see was how committed Clayton was to making sure we had an amazing night and he succeeded in delivering exactly that. Clayton is the type of person that will forever be surrounded by people that love him because he is the type of person that dedicates every breath to making sure those around him are having fun.
The world needs more people like Clayton. The good news is that cultivating experiences for those around you is a simple goal to achieve, it just takes effort. Every time you leave the house you have the ability to make someone else feel good about themselves, their choices, or the moment they’re experiencing. Investing this type of effort into those around you is a surefire way to win lifelong friends and to make the world a better place at the same time. You’ll be surprised how much influence you have over other people.
Bonus Strategy: Dress The Part
There have been countless studies proving the links between how things like your clothes and your posture effect your mental state. By dressing and preparing yourself in a manner that makes you feel good you are bestowed with energies that you can then invest into the people around you. I did this by buying a three piece suit and having it tailored to fit me perfectly. I bought the suit, a shirt, socks, shoes, etc. AND had it tailored for less than $300 in Korea Town. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, the only thing that matters is how it makes you feel. The same effect can be achieved with a good haircut, a manicure, or a shirt that’s just a bit louder than something you might normally wear.
As a matter of fact, I can trace the birth of much of my confidence back to the purchase of a bright red windbreaker. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had never owned outerwear that wasn’t a neutral color. My first thought was that “I couldn’t pull it off” and that it was a stretch for me to wear it, but eventually it changed the way other people saw me and thus the way I saw myself. The fact that it was on sale also helped to facilitate the decision.
Visualize yourself in your favorite outfit, your favorite shirt, or your favorite color to wear. Think of all the times someone has complimented you when you were wearing it. Chances are, you can immediately identify two or three scenarios where someone made you feel good about yourself by telling you something about how it made you look. Furthermore, I’ll bet that you can remember exactly what was said, where it was said, and the face of who said it – even if it was years ago. Genuine, well-placed compliments have the ability to stay with people for years and you have opportunities to make them daily. If you want to build an audience of raving friends, make a commitment to make that your priority and you’ll be surprised how fast people seek you out.
In the four months I’ve been in Los Angeles I’ve been able to cultivate a social network more powerful than the one that took me eight years to create in Vermont. It was through a conscious effort exerted on a typically unconscious process that enabled me to do this. It was the accelerated version of a normal human process. You can use these strategies to make friends in a new city, build a referral network for your business, or solely to be a source of good energy in a world that desperately needs it. Just remember that “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
Whether you live in a big city or a small town, are introverted or extroverted, have lived there for years or just moved to town… try just one of these strategies and see what happens. Drop your story in the comments below and I’ll reward anyone with the most random, exciting, and fruitful results.