Networking with Strangers: 6 Ways to Meet People in a New City

Mar 05, 2015 -
When you make a major life decision — such as quitting your job, moving to a new city or starting your own business — the response from friends and colleagues often comes in the form of a compliment. They may say,  “I wish I had your courage,” or “I’m going to live vicariously through you!” But never will someone say the truth, which is: “Eek, that’s gonna be rough. Good luck with that.” Before you re-think the deposit on an over-priced moving truck, hear me out: You are making the right decision.   Last year I was in your shoes. I had a salaried job with benefits, but my entrepreneurial, risk-taking, creative self wasn’t satisfied, so I pulled the trigger on a dream that had long been simmering in the corners of my mind: working as an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. Within three months of my New Year’s resolution to make a life change, I took the California Bar Exam, quit my job and moved to a new city 2,000 miles from family and friends on a wing and a prayer. I knew it would be difficult, but while planning and scheming of this new life in Los Angeles, I failed to take into account one very important factor: I didn’t know anyone. So, how do you create meaningful friendships and strong business relationships when you are an adult, starting at ground zero?

Go beyond your comfort zone and meet new people

During the last six months of trial and error, I’ve found that the best ways to network with strangers are not through the cliché channels of social media, bar associations and not-for-profit organizations, but rather activities strategically tailored to meeting people who want to go to bat for you even before you’ve met them. Here six great ways to expand your network in a brand new city: (Click here to tweet this list.)

1. Use the network you already have

Before you moved to this new city, you came from somewhere. Call those people --  don’t just send them a Facebook message. Get on the phone, ask them about their lives, update them with yours and before you even say, “Do you know anyone in [insert city] you think I should meet?” they will offer to help you because first,  you took the time to call them, and second, people innately want to feel useful. We want our friends to succeed and our friends want to help us achieve that success. You just need to give them the opportunity to do so.

2. Participate in alumni events

Everyone has at least one alma mater, whether it’s your college, graduate school or Boy Scout troop. But this tip comes with a caveat: If you went to the University of Maryland and now live in D.C., alumni networking events may not be a good use of your time. Why?  Because there’s too many of you. The bigger the pool of people, the less likely a stranger is willing to help another stranger. On the other hand, if you’re a Maryland grad living in Los Angeles, those Terps will be some of the closest allies you have. The smaller the group, the more bonded they feel to take care of their own. Go to an event or call your alma mater and ask for a list of names. You won’t regret it.    

3. Market yourself 24/7... in a non-threatening way

I am always marketing myself. The other day I gave my card to a guy in the parking lot at Whole Foods. Elevators, coffee shops, public bathrooms — nothing is off limits. It’s not the location that matters, it’s the pick-up line.   Don’t scare people with an overly aggressive “I’m-an-accountant-you-should-hire-me-here’s-my-card” introduction. Instead, start a conversation about a topic you have in common. For example, if you live in Boston, but grew up in New Jersey, and you see someone with a Jersey license plate, say, “You from Jersey?” (Yes.) “Me too. Which exit?” And go from there. Other non-threatening conversation starters include: dogs, sports teams (e.g., if someone is wearing the hat of a team you like), shoes, weather, unique surroundings, drink choice, etc.

4. Look for opportunities to reconnect

The hardest part about networking is finding reasons to stay in touch with someone you have already met. If you have money, keeping connected with people is easy. Throw a party or invite people to a restaurant and pick up the check. However, if you’re like me, and you’re just getting started with a new career path, you need to find ways to keep connected on a shoestring budget. Here’s how: when you see an article, event listing, or photo that a friend or colleague would enjoy, take five minutes to send it to him or her with a “saw this and thought of you” note attached. Here’s another idea: invite a few people to your home for dinner. If you’re broke, make it a potluck. Either way, it will create an atmosphere of informality that just doesn’t happen over a $12 cocktail at the bar.

5. Create a modern day rolodex

Unless you have a photographic memory, you aren’t going to remember the details of every new relationship. You need to write it down. My strategy, thanks to the advice of my friend Leiti Hsu, is an Excel spreadsheet.  The tabs are organized by state, with the first tab labeled my current place of residence (California). The list of names under each tab is then organized alphabetically by first name, with additional columns for last name, city, job title, employer and commentary (which usually says something about how we met). The reason I like using a spreadsheet instead of the iPhone address book is because you can easily scroll down the list to see all the people you haven’t spoken to recently… which is an easy reminder to reconnect.

6. Focus your energy on people who matter

If you commit to these tips, you will inevitably run into the problem of knowing too many people. The people you meet will introduce you to more people, and those people will introduce you to more people, and next thing you know, you’re drowning in business cards and e-introductions. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Say yes to one coffee, one phone call, or one drink -- but after that initial meeting, focus your time on the people you truly want as either friends, mentors and business colleagues. This doesn’t mean you delete the others from your Rolodex (because if they call you, you want to make sure you have a way to remember who they are!), but focus your attention on the people you really want in your inner circle. Going after the career you always wanted will lead to long-term happiness. But it won’t be all rainbows and dandelions on your journey to the promise land, especially if that journey involves relocating to a new city. It will be difficult. It will be stressful. And it will take time to see the fruits of your labor. But it will be worth it. Katherine Imp is a transactional media attorney at Cummins & Associates, Ltd., specializing in entertainment, intellectual property, and corporate ventures. Contact Katherine at @KatherineImp or