Attending conferences and events is one of the best ways to expand your network. But how do you make sure you make the most out of your experience? In this episode, Travis shares the critical elements to networking at conferences and how to create your own game plan for your next event.
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Travis Watts: Welcome back Best Ever listeners. I’m your host, Travis Watts. This is The Actively Passive Investing Show. As always, I appreciate you for being here. I thought that for today’s topic, I want to kind of bounce out of multifamily and all the real estate, inflation data, and things we’ve been covering lately on the show. I want to talk about something else, which is how to network effectively at conferences. Whether we’re talking about a local real estate meetup group, or a nationwide conference, whether you’re there as a passive investor looking to find deals and find other passives and/or actives, or if you’re an inactive syndicator, or a GP, or an aspiring GP or sponsor. I’m going to cover what I feel are the most critical and important elements of networking at conferences.
Long story short, I’ve attended a ton of conferences over the last seven years or so, both from local to national and even international. I got to tell you, I’ve learned a few things. I’m no expert here but I really want to try to help you out. You’ve got to attend these events with a game plan. It is totally a failure from the get-go to just show up not really knowing what your mission is, what you’re doing, what you’re hoping to get out of the event, who you’re hoping to meet, you will walk away disappointed and/or feel ripped off. I have felt that way before and I want to prevent you from doing the same.
We’ve got the Best Ever Conference coming up in Denver, Colorado in February. I don’t know when this episode is going to air but hopefully, that hasn’t already passed. I will be there, I hope you guys will be there. I’d love to meet you face to face. I love meeting fellow Ashcroft Capital investors and other passives. Quite frankly, I found a lot of deals that I invest in today through conferences like the Best Ever Conference. It is a great conference for passives and actives, so check it out if you feel like it. But that’s not the point here. Let’s dive into why I think this is so important as a topic and why I want to share it with you today.
As many of you know, my journey in the passive investing space when I started investing in real estate syndications actually began with a local real estate meetup group. I promise you, I wasn’t doing all the things I’m going to talk about in this episode today, effectively. But I’ll tell you what it did do, it allowed me to find two mentors that changed my life, two mentors, two older gentlemen doing these passive investments. They were limited partners full-time, they were investing in value-add multifamily, private equity, and that was the bulk of what their portfolio was. It completely shifted my mindset more than any book had ever done, more than any friend or family member had ever done. These were just folks doing what I didn’t even know I really wanted to be doing with my life. I was able to hop on the bandwagon and drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and I’ve been on that path ever since. But so happy that I made that choice, I haven’t looked back. That’s what I’m here to share with you, is how life-changing conferences can be and finding mentors, and all the rest.
The number one thing that I want to talk about is from the macro end of things. You are hopefully looking to build relationships and add value to others as well as receive value from going to these events. But here’s my thing, you got to play the long game. Let’s use an analogy that you’re looking to date somebody new. Well, it’s probably not best practice to go down on one knee and propose for marriage on the first date. You got to play the long game. You’re trying to build a friendship, you’re trying to build a business partnership, so start slow. Just be open, be honest, be humble, just talk with people, and let people talk about themselves. Please, for God’s sake, that’s one thing.
I’ve shared the story before. I was at this conference out in Dallas and here comes this guy. I see him beeline right towards me from across the room. I don’t know this guy at all. He’s like, “Hey, I have a deal. Here’s my business card, and here’s a brochure on what our deal is.” Then he walks away. It was like the weirdest, most bizarre thing, and let me tell you, completely a waste of his time and a waste of my time. I would never invest in a deal that way. He didn’t even know if I was an investor. I could have been an operator myself and had no interest in his deal. It was the craziest thing. I’m sure someone told him who I was or that I was an investor or something. But guys, don’t do that. Please don’t do that.
Let’s dive into humility and the honesty approach. I’m quite convinced at this point this is how I was able to get the two gentlemen I alluded to be my mentors in the first place. I was just candid with them. I said, “Look, I don’t have a ton of experience here. I’ve done a decent amount of active real estate, but what I really like to do is learn how to be more hands-off. I hear that that’s kind of what you guys do. If you’re just willing to share maybe three or four minutes with me, just kind of give me the nutshell of it. This is really the path I believe I need to be on and here’s why.” Then I just shared a couple of bullet points. I said “I’m a very busy W2 worker, it’s really hard for me to scale these single-family homes. It’s taking all my time away.” I said, “If I could be in real estate but not have to be managing my tenants, running around the weekends trying to find new properties, underwrite, show up to closings, and make all these decisions, I could really live a more meaningful life, quite frankly.”
I was just being humble, I was just being myself. I didn’t come in there with the attitude, “Hey, I’m a big fix and flipper here, you know. I’ve made tons of money. Who are you?” None of that. Let the ego go out the door and come in with just truth, honesty, and what you’re looking for. I think people really pick up on that and resonate with that. That’s always kind of my macro and high-level advice is just be your true genuine self. Be open, be honest, share if somebody asks. This isn’t a macho match, it’s not keeping up with the Joneses thing, it’s genuinely trying to meet people, network, and like I said, build long-term relationships.
Travis Watts: Now let’s talk about if you’re active, if you’re a sponsor, or general partner, or aspiring to be one. Generally speaking, if you’re going to be at a conference, you’re either there for educational purposes, finding a business partner, or finding passive investors. I’d say, based on my own experience, there are a lot of active folks at these conferences looking for passive investors. Here’s my advice for you. Again, don’t try to close a deal in the first conversation, don’t even talk about a deal in the first conversation. Meet people and ask about them, make them start talking, figure out, are they even an investor? Are they an accredited investor? Have they done this kind of investing before? You’re just trying to get some answers here and figure out if you’re even talking to the right person in the first place.
Then what you’re really trying to dig at are two things, and it’s your choice on what you want to pursue. Generally speaking, people are moving towards pleasure or away from pain. If you’re moving towards pleasure, that has to do with your goals, so ask people about their goals. What are you trying to achieve by investing in multifamily? What’s kind of your long-term horizon? Is it cash flow or equity-focused? Do you have kids? Is this part of the whole generational wealth thing? Just tell me a little more about you and what it is you’re looking to achieve. These are the kinds of questions you want to probe at. That’s the pleasure side usually. If it’s a pain point, I just mentioned one of my biggest pain points back in the day, which was lack of time.
You will find, among a lot of LP investors – they’re doctors, they’re dentists, they’re lawyers, they’re attorneys, they’re pro-athletes, they’re – whoever; they’re career-focused individuals. They are not real estate people, most of them. They’re just people that are looking to diversify away from the stock market or participate in real estate because they heard real estate’s possibly a great asset to be in, they want to learn more, and maybe they just want to park some capital there. Usually, they have more money rolling in than what they’re needing to live on. That’s kind of the basis of it. You’re trying to figure out what pain points are, or what pleasures are.
Then after maybe two conversations or three, then you can start getting into “Well, hey. Listen, here’s how we can help you with that pain point or moving towards that pleasure. It’s because we do this full-time. We find deals, we underwrite them, we make them offerings to investors, and they produce cash flow. You told me that you were looking for X amount of passive income per month so that you could send your kids to college, you could retire at age 50, blah, blah, blah.” Then you kind of reiterate, again, you got to take notes and remember this stuff. At least write it down. I’m not the best at memory either. I don’t know about you, I shouldn’t say either. That’s kind of the name of the game, is listen first talk second. Don’t jump into a deal, play the long game, and just make it a point to follow up with people.
This is what I mean when I say focus on adding value to others. It truly is valuable when somebody listens to you, understands what your pain points are, and says, “I have a potential solution. I don’t know if it’s right for you or not, but hear me out. You said A, B, and C, I do A, B, and C. That seems to be a good fit for what you told me it is you want. If you want to have a discussion around that, I’d be more than happy to do that for you.” Just something as simple as that, you guys. Throw in a little self-quote, I haven’t done that in many episodes. I do this as a joke, by the way, you guys. I’m not an egotistical person where I think I need to quote myself, but it seems to fit right here. I always say “Passive income allows you to spend less time on the things you don’t like doing and more time on the things you love.” That’s the basis of it. Think about that when you talk to other people. Who wouldn’t like to spend less time doing things they hate and more time on things they love? That’s pretty much everybody. You’re trying to figure out what are the things you love? What are things you hate? How can I help? It’s not about money, it’s about time.
Let’s now talk about quality over quantity. I know a strategy for a lot of folks, especially those that are lead generation oriented. Their goal when they go to a conference is just to get everybody’s business card. You’ll see these booths, they’ll have a raffle giveaway, and it’s just like, “I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you do, put your business card right here, we’re giving away an iPad.” Well, the problem with that is it’s a hodgepodge of a mess of nonsense and randomness. You don’t know who put their card in there, who they really are, what they do, you know nothing about them. Really, you’re just throwing away money, in my opinion. I remember talking to Joe Fairless years ago about conferences in general, just kind of as a friendly conversation that I was having with him. He said, “Travis, I would rather walk away from a meetup with one deep-rooted connection, one long-term relationship, one person I could really follow up with, one person I truly understand and could be friends with, versus 50 business cards in my pocket.”
At first, I was kind of baffled by that. I thought, “Man, that’s kind of seems like a waste of time. What if that one person doesn’t end up investing or whatever?” But he was 100% right. I can tell you that with certainty at this point. I look back at all the conferences I kind of blew through and just “Hi, I’m Travis. Who are you? Hey, what’s your name? Hey, Bubba.” And then I don’t remember anybody because it was all shallow, it was all just “Oh, you live around here. How’s the weather? What do you do? Okay, great. See you later.” I didn’t make any deeper connections and I am very sorry to myself that I didn’t do that. Take Joe Fairless’ advice, play the long game, and make a deep-rooted connection. You never know where they’re going to lead, but the probability that that person… Even if they don’t invest with you or partner with you, they’re deep enough of a connection where they might be a referral source for you, or say, “You ought to meet my friend, blah, blah, blah. They do this and that.” You’re not going to get those opportunities if you’re blowing through conferences on 60-second conversations with people.
My advice there is to stop talking about the weather and start talking about people’s goals, interests, and pain points if you can manage to do that in a way that’s not a turnoff to people. You don’t want to just walk around and say “Hey, what’s your pain points? Hey, what makes you upset? What do you hate in life?” You got to find a smooth approach to get to it. Sometimes I like to lead with the pleasure aspect and then later get to pain points. One other thing just on a psychology side note is people remember stories more than they remember anything. I could talk to someone at a conference and say, “Did you know in this market the cap rates are ABC and did you know the average IRR in multifamily Class B is blah, blah, blah, in Phoenix, Arizona.” They’re going to get home and they won’t remember crap, I guarantee it. But if I sit with somebody and I tell them a true story of anything, just a deal that I did, or how I found a partnership, or my personal family, or a trip I took, I guaran-freaking-tee you, I could call them in two weeks and they will remember that story.
There’s a great book out there, it’s called Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. I recommend everybody read it, everybody in any element of business or not in business. The fact is, human beings resonate with stories. It’s an effective way to communicate with people. You will be way more remembered if you’re a story brander and not someone saying, “Here’s my card, here’s my deal. You want in?” That’s a bad approach every time, I guarantee it.
A few additional tips off the top of my head here, is always, always, always, always have business cards with you when you go to a conference. I’ve made the mistake of forgetting business cards, many people have. But there’s nothing more annoying than wanting to swap cards with someone and they don’t have one. Here are two things to think about. One, have a business card, two, have your face on the business card. Because no one’s going to remember John Doe after a conference that was three days ago in St. Louis, Missouri, no one remembers John Doe. But with a face, or a website, or some kind of link, or a QR code, they will absolutely remember who you are.
Number two, I used to not know what to do with the back of a business card. I did everything from just the free advertising logos –which is probably a no-go, that’s kind of a cheap out– to fancy QR codes, shiny crap on the back, and different… Here’s the deal, leave the back blank and carry two pens with you at all times at a conference. When somebody says I forgot my business card, you go “Great.” You pull your business card out, you flip it over on the back that’s blank, you can easily write on it with a pen or a pencil. You hand them the pen and you say, “Would you mind jotting down your name and email. I’d love to stay connected.” Boom, no excuses. With all these digital apps and all this kind of stuff, people just aren’t there yet in 2022. But hopefully, we do get there because they’re actually quite cool if you’ve ever used them where you can scan people’s business cards and stuff like that. But it gets messy taking digital notes or trying to remember somebody’s address, phone number, email, or whatever.
We already talked about, don’t present a deal to somebody right off the bat or any kind of sales pitch whatsoever, get to know them, let them talk first. If you are a sponsor, if you have a booth at a conference, please, please don’t give out a pen or a koozie. These are crap, nobody wants them, nobody needs them. If they do need them, they’re going to use the pen and they’re going to toss it in the trash on the way out. They’re not effective. If you’re trying to raise capital from people and you’re asking people for $100,000 checks, you don’t want to give them a 10-cent pen and hope that converts them into liking your company. Give quality gifts. It’s always quality over quantity, I promise you that. Giving people five water bottles that are off-brand is not as great as giving somebody a Fiji water bottle, I guarantee it. That brand subconsciously just resonates with people. Starbucks coffee versus some off-brand. Whatever you give out, spend a little extra money and give out something that’s actually meaningful or impactful or useful, something that people aren’t going to toss on their way out or leave in the bag at the conference. Those are the only things that are effective.
Travis Watts: Here’s a great way to start a conversation at a conference. I usually start with something like, “Hey, my name is Travis. What’s your name and what do you do?” Something like that. Or, “Hey, my name is Travis. What brings you here to the conference?” Always switch it back to them. If they’re very short and it’s just like, “Hey, I’m Bob. I do real estate.” Back to them, “Hey, Bob. What kind of real estate do you do? Are you in the multifamily space? Are you a passive investor, an active investor? What do you do?” Keep pushing the ball back. It’s like bait, it’s a catch. No one wants to hear you talk about yourself. Anytime they pass you the ball, it’s a hot potato, it’s just [gesture], and then you send it right back to them as fast as you can, you get them to talk. What you’ll find is, usually, people will start to open up more. Their first reaction might be, “Hey, I’m Bob. I do real estate.” Their second might be, “Oh, I’m in multifamily. I’m an LP investor partnered with 14 different people.”
From there, you start asking about pains and pleasures, and then all of sudden, hopefully, you release some excitement, and then they’ll really start opening up to you. Psychologically, there is not a lot of better ways to get people to actually resonate with you to, a.k.a., like you than to get them to talk about themselves. It’s the craziest thing but it’s true. It’s just a weird psychological trick. If you just let someone rant and rave, and you just sit there and listen for 30 minutes, they will just feel a connection and like you. They know nothing about you. It’s the weirdest thing. I promise, it’s always in your favor to let people take away the bulk of the conversation and focus on themselves. Plus, if you’re active or passive, you’re going to learn so much about the person, you may not even be talking to the right person so save your own breath. If you’re looking to meet passive investors and you ask someone what they do, and they say, “Oh, I’m active and I do house flips. All I ever want to do is house flips and I hate multifamily. I like Bitcoin.” You know you’re talking to the wrong person so you don’t even have to waste your breath about what you do because it really doesn’t matter. You can find a way to kind of scapegoat out of that conversation, hopefully, sooner than later.
My final thoughts, you guys, I’m a macro level guy, I just can’t help it. I always think of high-level stuff. But my final thought to wrap up this episode is always try to focus on learning something from every person you encounter. That’s not all going to be life-changing but I always try to learn something, and it keeps me probing, that’s why. If I’m looking to meet an active syndicator and I’m talking to someone who’s not that, they do CPA work and they’ve never invested in all this kind of stuff, instead of me just getting turned off and saying, “Oh, that’s cool, man. Nice to meet you. See you later.” I keep asking like, “Oh, you do accounting, you do CPA work? Do you focus on the real estate space? Because I know a lot of people that are always looking for real estate CPAs. Tell me a little more about what you do. Do you strategize, do you help people with proactive planning or just kind of ask for tax forms at the end of the year? Just tell me about your business.” If I can just take away one or two things, I always walk away with value. In my opinion, it’s always worth your time, it’s always worth my time to network and mingle with people at these events. After all, you’re usually paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars to be there. Take advantage of it and you never know where that can lead if you just walk away with 10 new pieces of information and at least one deep-rooted connection.
With that, the more people you know, the faster you’ll go. That sounds like a Dr. Seuss quote, but it’s not, it’s Travis Watts’ quote. Thank you, guys, for being here. As always, this is The Actively Passive Investing Show. Have a Best Ever week. Please reach out on social media, email@example.com. Leave a comment, like, subscribe, all that millennial jargon stuff. We’ll see you next time on the show.
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