Part 1 – Getting plugged into the local scene

2009 April 23
by Steven R Jones

This is the first in a collection of posts that track my progress in finding my next job. The initial thread started here.

Having just moved to a new State, I now needed to get my bearings. I know there is a tech community here but I’ve got no real head start. I’ve put out calls to my current network to see if they can make introductions, but there seems to be some sort of Continental Tech Divide between my old area and this new one. As a result, I’m mostly starting this from scratch.

I could contact the Chamber of Commerce, sign up for a local newspaper service, or start hanging around at one of the more populated online cafes. But that’s not really going to get me plugged in.

I need to meet people.

Easier said than done, even in a place like this where people are naturally friendly and will go out of their way to help out a newcomer. But where are these people or more specific, how do I get in front of them? And what do I say when I do get the opportunity to meet them face to face?

To answer the first question, it is important to know what and where the action is. I sought out online resources (of course) including feeds and daily emails from local media outlets, LinkedIn groups, and active network-oriented organizations in the area. For example, WRAL here in Raleigh has a great tech headlines digest that you can subscribe to via email called LocalTechWire. (See my previous post on how to ramp up quickly on any new topic). In following these feeds I found out about:

  • Upcoming lectures, workshops, and other networking events to sign up for, many of which are free and open to the public;
  • Early stage companies, who is leading them, and the local buzz they are generating including mergers/acquisitions, layoffs & hirings, funding, relocations & new offices opening, new product releases, etc.; and
  • More online resources including (skip if you’re not in the Triangle) Business Leader’s, (also on LinkedIn), TechJournal South, and the Triangle Business Journal to name just a few.

iphonecalVery quickly, my calendar for the next few months filled up with places to be and people to meet. And with the near steady stream of news and information, I now had some relevant context to start conversations with what would be total strangers.

Regarding the second question (what to say), I think it would be difficult for me to prescribe a general purpose, fool-proof chinwag. What I will share are things that worked for me.

  1. Everyone can use some help –  it is always a good idea to talk about the other person’s current business challenges and try to find ways to help.  I found that I had an increasing number of topics, resources and even new connections to share as I continued to network.
  2. Local success story – I was fortunate enough to have done some recent business in the area so I could share stories about another local company (who, btw, also has ongoing needs and could use new connections themselves)
  3. New Kid on the Block – for transplants, there is a limited window of time to tap into people’s instinctive generosity by playing up the “I’m new here, what would you suggest? What groups should I check out? Who should I be talking to (people love to share their contacts and may even make introductions on your behalf)?”
  4. Restaurants (or similar) recommendations – it may be off topic but it can be very easy to get people talking about their favorite coffee shop, restaurant, pub, etc. I got turned on to some great new spots in town which became easy locations spots for future meetings.

After 3 months of this, I started seeing signs that I was indeed getting plugged in. Perhaps the most obvious indication was hearing the same recommendations repeated over and over. I had frequented many of the regularly scheduled events. I even helped make new connections between other people which lead to new business!

I realize that not everyone has the kind of bandwidth it takes to keep this level of activity going. Many of the folks I met would admonish themselves for not doing more to stay connected. Truthfully, my own pace may slow considerably after I land my next job but I have seen firsthand the benefits of getting (and staying) plugged in. And with the bevy of online tools that are available, it should be easier than ever before.

Next up: Accumulating Good Contacts…

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