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Getting a foot in the door - whether a company, hotel bar or house party - is a sure-fire way to advance your business network by rubbing shoulders with right people.
In the Sheraton Hotel's exclusive 25th-floor club lounge, overlooking the skyscrapers dutifully building Beijing's future, I received a gem of advice from the VP of a multinational company.
A true salesman, he knew each hotel employee by name, and took the liberty of mixing his own drinks behind the bar, oozing a charisma and arrogance that would put Don Draper to shame. Setting down his whiskey, he stood and and verbally beckoned me to the glass wall, observing the city sweltering below under an oppressive grey heat. He perused the scene with a sense of ownership, silhouetted against the ghostly frames of high rises disappearing into a cloud of smog, like some prophet of capitalism.
'I think every young person should see this - they should see what money looks like.'
Now, this might be the kind of confidence that either stirs admiration or solicits an eye-roll, but there was no mistaking I could learn a lot from a man who had "made it".
And offer practical advice, he did. Four years later, his advice has helped me talk my way in (and out) of many a business situation.
Because in business, it's who you know, right?
Well, it turns out you only really need to know three people in any establishment...
An obvious choice. But you'd be surprised how many people don't even bother learning their name. When approaching any company or institution - in person or with a proposal- aim straight for the decision-maker. Whether it's business or social, pitch or pleasure, approaching the top first will save you a lot of time.
It's much easier for an idea to filter through a company from the top down than being relayed from the ground up in a corporate Chinese whispers. Use your sleuth social-networking skills to get their details and go for it.
Secretaries and Personal Assistants are often reduced by mainstream media to sassy subordinates - but don't be fooled. They have very real power over you as an outsider.
They are the gatekeeper. Any overwhelmed CEO will tell you a PA is a lifesaver whose opinion is taken very seriously. They know what the boss is about and carefully curate the information presented to them - including your proposal.
Remember their names, their dogs' names and how they like their coffee, because your relationship with them could be the difference between getting ahead and getting kicked off the premises.
You can't get a foot in the door if you can't physically get a foot in the door. Invisible to most, doormen, receptionists and security guards spend their days observing the daily habits of everyone in the building.
Every party has a back door, and every business has someone elusive you can never quite to catch between meetings. You never know when you can barter some banter in exchange for information. Plus, you get to brighten up someone's day with a smile.
The moral of the story? You never know who might give you a leg up to your next big break. Everyone in an establishment has value, so make kindness your rule of thumb, don't take the "little guy" for granted, and make a mental note of names and coffee preferences!