In business, networking can often be the difference between success or failure since knowing the right people can often be the springboard to being at the right place at the right time. As we all know, motorsport is as much about business as sport with the search for sponsorship taking up such a large part of a driver’s time and energy. It is therefore only logical that you would want to cast your net wide as part of your sponsorship search and network with as many people as possible.
In this post I list ten points to keep in mind when planning out how you network and why. In all the meetings and interviews I have had with numerous team officials, businesses involved in motorsport, sponsorship consultants, scholarship officials and driver management companies, the importance of networking has been emphasized time and time again.
Do not underestimate the value of networking in helping you achieve your motorsport goals because you never know who you might meet and when that meeting may actually pay dividends to you as a driver. And don’t forget to take notes on who you met, what they do and where you met them! This could be critical as you work to follow up on initial contacts or if you are contacted and you need to jog your memory as to who the person is and what they do.
1. Networking is not just social media
While social media is a great way to connect with people, in many ways’ motorsport is still “old school” and nothing replaces meeting somebody in person, shaking their hand, looking into their eyes and introducing yourself to them. Your enthusiasm for what you do and why you do it is always best conveyed in person. No emoji will ever replace this.
2. There are numerous networking opportunities at a track
A race weekend presents an incredible opportunity to meet team and series officials, potential sponsors who are currently involved in the sport and potentially businesspeople who are attending as fans and who may like to get involved but don’t know how. Research who is racing, what sponsors are involved and what kind of crowd normally attends. Be as prepared as you can possibly be.
3. Go to trade shows
Trade shows like Performance Racing International, SEMA, Autosport International and Motorsport Days Live to name just a few are fantastic places to network as well as inform yourself about what is going on in the wider motorsport industry. Going to events like these as a driver often demonstrates your drive (pun intended!) and initiative to those that you meet and greet.
4. Go to races even if you are not racing
Just because you are not racing does not mean you should not attend races. In some ways it is almost better for networking than if you were racing that weekend because it gives you the time to focus on networking. Because you are not racing you are not preoccupied by the usual race weekend distractions you would normally have to deal with, and you can focus on meeting as many people as possible.
5. Stay off the phone!
The modern smartphone is a wonder of technology and beneficial in so many ways, but it sometimes tends to consume us and prevents us from actually meeting people in person. When you are at the track and not preparing to practice, qualify or debrief, put the phone away and walk around the paddock. Take the time to meet people and leave the phone in your pocket, especially when you are in the middle of a conversation. Constantly checking your phone is rude and shows you are not truly interested in what the person has to say.
6. You are a race driver! You already have something in common
Not everybody is a natural networker. For some it comes naturally, for others they feel like they are trying to “sell” themselves and so tend to be shy about it. Just remember this one simple fact, you are a race driver (or are working on being one). There is a natural connection with what you do and why everyone else is at the track (or tradeshow) that weekend. You already have something in common and that is one giant icebreaker out of the way!
And remember, even if you are not racing that weekend make sure to make it obvious that you are a driver by wearing a team jacket or polo!
7. No need to be elaborate. Just introduce yourself and get the conversation started
You don’t need to prepare an elaborate elevator pitch when networking. Just introduce yourself and get a conversation started. Even if it is no more than a minute or two, you have made a connection. The next time you see that person it is now much easier to say hi and reintroduce yourself and build on the initial contact you both made. Make sure you remember their name!
If you are not sure what to say, introduce yourself and ask a question related to the team/person you are talking to. If they own a business, take a genuine interest in what they do, you could be representing them as a driver in the future.
The best way to get somebody to talk is to ask them a question about what they do. People love to talk about what they do, especially in motorsport. By being genuinely interested in who they are and what they do, your chances of engaging in an actual conversation will only increase exponentially.
8. Don’t make it all about you!
While your ultimate goal in networking is to lay the seeds for a potential drive, sponsorship or other opportunity, nobody wants to hear you talking about yourself the whole time. Networking is merely a fancy word for conversation and a conversation is a two-way thing. Make sure that conversation is not just about you.
9. Don’t ask for anything
The purpose of networking is to meet new people and get your name out there. Lay the groundwork for a potential follow-up and never ask for anything on first contact. Build the relationship and through that you can show who you are, what you are capable of and how it can benefit your contact. This takes time. Nurture connections that have the potential to be mutually beneficial.
10. Be yourself, be open and be genuine. Show you care and be presentable.
Above all else, be yourself! You could be potentially representing this team, series or sponsor and people are always looking for genuine, composed and engaging drivers to represent them. Don’t be shy to take a public speaking or media course but make sure you are always yourself. There is no reason to be anybody else.
Hopefully these points will convince you of the importance of networking. Because you are passionate about motorsport and want to succeed in your race driving career, networking is something that, while initially possibly difficult or uncomfortable, is something that can truly make a difference to whether you continue in the sport or not. In order to take advantage of opportunities you have to be in the right place at the right time. The only way to do that is to get out there and meet as many people as possible. Good luck and go start shaking some hands!