Networking is an essential skill for all of us, but for entrepreneurs, it is a “must have”. In the end, networking is all about creating relationships that can lead to opportunities, new ideas, and growth. The most successful startups know how to foster meaningful relationships, which allow for a fast and sustainable path to success.
In the process of building trust and credibility for your business, you need to be visible and to create truly personal connections. Whether you seek funding or are looking to find new customers, it’s your personal touch that will be the deal breaker.
But often, attending an event can result in nothing but a collection of business cards, without any real connection to the people you met or a reason for calling them. In order to avoid being “just another card”, it’s important to make a memorable first impression and follow some tips:
- 1: Be proactive
To meet new people, you need to be proactive and be open to going beyond your existing network or comfort zone. Establishing new relationships starts by being an honest, interesting person to talk to.
The basic principles are quite simple: show interest in the other person, listen, and engage in conversations regarding topics that you are interested or excited about. Show passion and use simple “tricks” – like using the other person’s first name and smiling.
“Be yourself, prepare your story and don’t be shy: it’s just people talking to people… and we’ve been doing that for ages!”
- 2: Identify your needs
Networking isn’t (just) about socialising, and you need to be selective about the events you attend. If you’re seeking investment then you might want to attend a different event than if you’re looking for new customers. Select your events carefully and check the list of attendees before you go, to ensure that you know who you should try to meet while you are there. When available, use networking apps like Grip or Shapr.
- 3: Be clear in your message!
It doesn’t matter what your business goals are or which relationships you’re seeking, you need a compelling story to tell, or you’ll be wasting time when communicating with your potential contacts.
A good story is one of the most powerful sales tool, and it will make you more relatable by providing context about yourself and your startup. It’s why after presentations more than 60% of people remember stories. So practice your storytelling, and create a meaningful way of telling it to your audience.
- 4: Know your numbers
It’s important to share stories, but adding in facts and data is crucial to substantiate your business idea. Now you’re creating a compelling story for your startup! Use facts with potential customers to get to know what interests them, and to focus on the impact and uniqueness of your value proposition (problem/solution/advantages).
- 5: Don’t forget the basics: your business card!
It’s the standard “currency” in this game and good business cards can make a great first impression. How many times have you forgotten or missed handing out a card? So always carry a large amount and take them with you – even if you’re in a bikini! Be creative when using the available space, as they pass on your company’s image and are your first advertising campaign.
- 6: Online and offline
Angel List, Crunchbase, and other tools are great, but not very effective if you are trying to build networks offline. Online tools do complement, but how many people do you have on your LinkedIn list that you’ve never met? (Do, however, personalise your LinkedIn contact requests). Connect with people online, and take those relationships forward by engaging offline. Nevertheless, you must keep your online profiles, both personal and professional, updated and synched.
- 7: Strategy and planning
It’s important to create a task in your weekly agenda and dedicate some time to networking (at least two hours). Don’t forget that networking is all about dedicating your time to building relations. So be prepared to give back, and be available to work with others on a project or help out your local community. This can be via an organised group, open source contributions, or local charities.
- 8: Last but not least: Follow up!
An event may be where the conversation begins, not where it ends. If you’ve met interesting people, ask them about the best way to stay in touch, as some prefer email or phone, while others prefer social networks. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available.
Do some further research and get back to some topic you discussed, in order to take the conversation to the next level.
Make a constant effort and take every opportunity to search for leads and contacts. But remember that networking is a two-way street, so listen at least as much as you talk! Use your time to explore and find out how every new person you meet can help or fit in with your startup. Be yourself, prepare your story and don’t be shy: it’s just people talking to people… and we’ve been doing that for ages!