Networking is about making connections that ultimately can help you find the resources you need to be successful- from planning, hiring the right staff, finding the best lawyer, or getting the marketing strategy right. “Working the crowd” sounds contrived, however, networking can be your best ally as you manage your startup. I recently sat on a panel at the Levin Institute about the value of networking to a group of corporate refugees who are considering entrepreneurship as a next step. There were a lot of nervous faces in the audience about the prospect of having to go out and ‘network.’ It was amazing how many people considered networking to be the domain of the “masters of socialization.” I think we succeeded in helping everyone better understand how to network more effectively in their own lives and get the results that they want.
Whether you describe yourself as an extrovert or an introvert there are common tips that I recommend to be a good networker:
1) 1 Event a Week: If you’re just starting out, go to at least 1 networking event per week. You can always go to more but ‘force’ yourself to go even if you have a million reasons not to. Getting in the habit of weekly networking will help you both meet new people (or foster deeper connections with people you know) but will also help you think about new or better ways of doing things. If you’re shy, then you may need to set goals. For example, make a point of talking to at least 3 people. Go to meetup.com to find networking events in your area.
2) Focus: Going to parties may be fun- and be a networking opportunity- but this doesn’t necessarily count as your weekly networking. Think about the industry that you’re in and go to events related to your business. The idea is to connect with people in your industry, share knowledge and learn about trends. Your time is limited so go to events that can help you on your startup journey.
3) Exchange Contact Info: While iPhone ‘bumping’ or beaming contact information is becoming more prevalent, get business cards. Even if you don’t have a name for your business, include your name, email, and contact number. When you take cards, I like to write the date I met the person and anything relevant or interesting. (Usually once a month, I then enter the information into my contacts in Outlook.)
4) Offer to Help: When you meet people at these events- figure out how you can help them. Yes, you may need something but first listen and see how you can help the other person. I’ve often found this help can easily come in the form of making introductions. For example, I went to a StartOut.org networking event and met a lawyer, Chris, who, in the course of conversation, mentioned that he was looking for shared office space. I knew another attorney looking to rent an office, so I connected the two and they were a match. I helped two people. And, months later, when I needed a contract reviewed at a moment’s notice, Chris happily offered to do it complimentary! So, you never know when your good karma pays off.
5) LinkedIn: Setting up an account on LinkedIn is simply the easiest (and free!) way to network. It’s a fantastic service that lets you set up a profile and include professional credentials. It’s fast becoming the tool that defines professional networking. If you don’t have an account, set yours up today and then you can start ‘connecting’ with people you know, contacts you make at networking events, or contacts of your contacts. For example, when I was looking to hire a resource for my business, Wicked Start, I simply posted it in my account. Within hours, I had quality responses from dozens of prospective applicants. It was super easy! As your LinkedIn network grows, you’ll have access to several resources to help you on your journey.
Remember, it’s never too early to start networking. Best wishes for success and let me know of any successful networking tips that have worked for you!