Being able to network effectively and build long-lasting, solid relationships can be invaluable, especially as an indie game developer. Having a network of professionals can be useful in everything from finding a concept artist to seeking out a team for your next project.

I find that being able to connect with others in the gaming industry is rewarding both professionally and personally. Professionally, I’ve build up great connections with contractors and partners that I conduct business with regularly and trust. Personally, I’ve formed some amazing friendships over the years and being able to hang out with like-minded people is a lot of fun.

As entrepreneurs, we are constantly told that networking is vital to our success. But how exactly does one go about networking successfully? I’m here to share some advice for successful networking based on my experience doing so often and with great results for the past few years. With events like E3, GDC and PAX coming up, there’s no time like the present to start working on building your network.

Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your networking efforts.

 

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Networking can happen when you least expect it.

You can meet people anywhere—coffee shops, bars, airplanes, taxis, anywhere! Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into thinking the only time you’ll make valuable connections with others is at a convention or meet-up. I’ve met some amazing people when I was least expecting it. Just this past week I was in a cab on the way to the airport and I had an hour and a half long chat with my driver who was starting a cosmetics business. He had some fantastic stories to share about his work and passion, and it was great to hear from a fellow entrepreneur.

Always be ready to meet new people and enhance your life through your encounters. Every time you sit next to someone you don’t know or start talking to someone for the first time, go into it imagining that they’re going to give you the secret to all of your success. Be receptive with everyone you meet and you’ll soon find that you build connections and develop relationships rapidly.

 

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Everyone around you knows something you don’t.

You have to realize that you don’t know everything. You have not learned everything there is to learn and you won’t ever learn everything there is to learn. That’s why it’s so important to keep an open mind and be willing to learn from people. Networking isn’t only about building relationships you can benefit from—it’s about learning from people. Learning what someone does. Learning a new way to do something. Learning what makes people tick.

The most fulfilling thing there is to hear is someone talking about what they’re passionate about. People’s eyes light up as they start talking faster and you can just feel the energy emerging from them. I feel this often when asking developers about games they’re exhibiting at conventions, but it can happen in any context—some people are super passionate about sports, others about science and others about food. Even if what someone is passionate about doesn’t resonate with you, the why and how behind their passion should always be something you seek out and get motivated by. Start seeing everyone as a teacher and you’ll learn like never before.

 

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Be yourself sometimes. Or don’t.

We’re often taught “just be yourself, and anyone that doesn’t like it doesn’t deserve to get to know you.” This is plain wrong in my opinion. You are not going to jive with every single type of person out there, and that’s okay. But don’t try to be surrounded by carbon copies of yourself. Every group of people has a different dynamic, and every person you meet will have a different personality. If you truly want to connect with as many people as you can (this is especially vital when meeting people that could be important to your business) you have to be willing to have an elastic personality. Remember that everybody has something to teach you, and there’s always a way to connect with people.

If you’re talking to someone and it comes out that they’re a super religious Christian, I’m not suggesting you pretend to agree with them 100% and donate to their church. But maybe you could mention that you attended Bible Study as a child or that you visited a cathedral in Italy on your last vacation. If you’re meeting someone who seems super excited about sports and you’re about as athletic as a cucumber, don’t sign up for the breast cancer awareness 5K they’re hosting next week. Maybe you could attend as a supporter because someone in your family was affected by breast cancer, or sponsor the event with your company. There’s always an angle you can use to engage and connect with people, it’s just a matter of identifying some common ground. Human beings have an innate desire to make things familiar. When you first meet someone, they’re thinking “how can I relate to this person?” Make that task as straightforward as possible for the person you’re talking to, and they’ll open up to you very easily.

 

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Just remember—it’s difficult for everyone.

Many entrepreneurs are intimidated by networking. How could one possibly show up to a convention with nothing but a smile and a stack of business cards and leave with several strong relationships in place? It’s not easy for anyone, no matter how much they make it seem so. I consider myself pretty good at networking (part of my job involves strategic partnerships, so I do a lot of meeting new people) and I still get nervous before large events or meet-ups with people I don’t know.

How do I get over the nerves? I remind myself that I am seeking people out because they provide value to me personally or professionally, and everyone I’m meeting is also seeking out people that provide similar value to them. I provide value to people, whether I know it or not. Maybe they want to hire me to draft up their social media strategy. Maybe they want to hear about my experience working on roguelike games. Maybe they want advice on running a Kickstarter. If you ever feel down about yourself or feel like you won’t be able to network successfully, look at your resume and all the things you’ve done in your life. Look at the people you’ve met, the places you’ve been, the experiences you’ve had and the things you’ve learned. I can guarantee that each and every person on this planet has some value to bring to someone else.

 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get connected!