I believe that entrepreneurs and networking go hand in hand. Ask anyone why they attend an industry conference. The most common answer will be to meet new people, network with industry experts, meet new customers, vendors, partners, investors or even future employees. The bottom-line is that networking can help you grow your business and make you aware of upcoming trends and opportunities in the industry. These days with all the social networking tools such as Facebook, Linkedin, Google+ and Twitter, it has become easier to meet and interact with smart, like minded and fellow entrepreneurs for building your network. For an entrepreneur, the art of networking should be a way of life. The effective networking is about making meaningful and genuine connections with people, who can help you not only grow your business but also as an entrepreneur, thereby turning this skill into a long term competitive advantage for you. Now the question is, “what are the right ways for networking for an entrepreneur?” Here are the four key take away (4KTA) points on this topic.
1. Create Blueprint:
First and foremost advice that entrepreneurs get is to write a business plan. So, it can help them articulate their vision and thought process clearly in writing for further review and analysis, its execution and course correction, if any. Similarly, in order to be an effective networker, why not start with a networking plan or a networking blueprint. Most of the times, most of us just show up at conferences, talk sessions, or industry mixers without any planning. Next time, when you attend one of these events, ask yourself few questions. Why should I attend this event? Who would I need to connect with to be highly successful? Which industry groups shall I join? Who could be my mentor and help me grow as an entrepreneur? How can I reach out to them? This can help you create a blueprint for your networking that can result in long term success. I still remember when I was looking to raise capital for my first startup; I always looked for events with venture capitalists in the panel, so I could meet them. If I was looking to form a strategic partnership with a particular company, I would similarly look for industry events with the executives from that company.
2. Expect Nothing:
Having right expectations is a key element for being successful in networking. My belief is that you just have to give and go extra mile without expecting anything in return. Creating trust and friendship are part of any good networking approach. When going for networking events, my advice is to go there with an open mind to meet people, share ideas and have some fun conversations. Finally, when you show up at an event, you must be proactive in walking up to a person or a small group and gracefully introducing yourself. You will be amazed how you will make everyone feel comfortable and yourself with this mindset. In the process, you meet some interesting people. Follow up with an email thanking them for a fun conversation and invite them for lunch or coffee whatever is convenient for them.
Make sure to pick up the tab if you can. I would highly suggest you rather do that. Again, same rule of no expectation applies here for picking up the tab as well. In scenarios, when looking for strategic partners or for investment for your company at an industry event, how do you go about meeting the right people? If your prospects are participating in a panel, I would approach them right after the panel discussion is over and ask for their contact information. Then, follow up promptly requesting a meeting. The chances are that lots of folks will be trying to talk to them; you will have to be really proactive to get their attention.
3. Do Good:
There is a saying when you do well for others, good things will happen to you from the universe. I really believe in it. So just do it and then forget about it. Let’s say you meet someone at an event, the person asked you for some help or advice or requested connecting with someone you know. I will leave it to you to decide if you should make the connection or when to make the connection. My suggestion is to try to help as much as you can since good karma will never go waste in the long run. You may be wondering why I am suggesting to help people you meet rather than get the most out from them. Remember what our parents taught us - first you help others, then they help you. Keep this ancient wisdom in mind. You will only be successful as you help others to be successful, help others to achieve or by introducing them to potential customers without expecting anything in return.
4. Build Trust:
After having gone to a number of events, you feel awesome that you have made hundreds of high profile contacts and connections. This is awesome but these are not relationships. A relationship is what helps sustain a business for the long term. To develop a personal relationship with these newly made contacts, you must continue with face to face communication, nurturing and spending time at it. This is what will build trust in the long run and will eventually help you create a quality network with strong relationships. This is the kind of network you want that can help you grow as an entrepreneur and can be potentially fulfilling in the long run.
In summary, the four key take away (4KTA) points – Create Blueprint, Expect Nothing, Do Good and Build Trust can be highly effective in creating a quality network with strong relationships for an entrepreneur.