Regardless of what kind of startup you’re building, networking will in one way or another play a role in the growth of your business. The extent, however, to which networking can influence your business depends on the type of product or service you’re offering.
From validating an idea to finding potential partners, building the right relationships can definitely help a startup get off the ground. Most people know this, but the difficulty usually comes in selecting events to attend and then actually getting out there.
For those who are new to the world of networking, we spoke to some experts on the topic to provide some insight on how to approach this important aspect of entrepreneurship:
1) Make a plan
Time is money, so before you start filling your agenda with events for each night of the week, it’s best to sit down and think about your networking goals. Are you looking for a strategic partnership? Are you looking to meet investors? Or are you simply interested in learning about a new area related to your business?
Candy Behunin (right), who has headed marketing and PR for companies like HitFox Group and Adjust, says there’s a limit to the efficiency of networking and at a certain point, networking becomes really inefficient and ineffective.
She adds that it’s important in the beginning to ask yourself what your entrepreneurial objectives are, what kind of people would relate to those goals and then focus on that.
Creating lists can also help in organisation. “What I do is I make a list of all the events I’d like to go to, who’s managing those events and then I start reaching out to those people,” says Behunin.
2) Select events to attend
Sitting behind your screen and shooting out blind email requests for meetings can only get you so far. Getting out there at events to meet people face-to-face can make a huge difference when building relationships at the get-go.
Choosing which events to attend, however, depends heavily on your company’s networking goals and how much time you have for socialising. If you’re just starting out or new to the scene, Olga Steidl (right), who heads growth at Berlin-based mobile CRM startup Inbot and was previously VP of Russia’s Yandex, suggests attending as many events as possible within your areas of interests for a designated amount of time. “I would definitely be very social and open in the very beginning… Make it your job to go to events,” she says.
On the other hand, if you’re more strapped for time and networking plays an important – but not key – role, in your business, it’s best to be more selective with attending events. Behunin says scanning the guest list ahead of time can help. “Sometimes I look at events I plan to attend and see how many people I want to meet are going to be there, and then choose an event to go to based on that,” she adds.
Once you have your pick of events, make sure you’re professionally dressed, equipped with an elevator pitch and have some business cards on hand.
3) Be open at the event
For some, the idea of talking to strangers with a business goal in mind can be highly daunting and unappealing. However, if you shift your mindset into thinking about networking not as ‘Networking’, but simply as getting to know new people who probably want to get to know you, it could alleviate your anxieties about approaching others.
“A lot of people are super afraid to talk to each other,” says Steidl, “For me, it’s like a memory game. You look at a person and each person is a gift to you – they have something inside of them that will either teach you something or you can benefit from in a different way. Be positive and be happy about meeting a new person.”
4) Listen, listen, listen
As much as networking is about you and your entrepreneurial goals, it’s also about the people you meet and their needs. So say what you need to say, but also take the time to listen attentively to others.
“Don’t just think about what you can get from other person, rather think about what this particular person needs,” advises Steidl, “What are they looking for? A new PR person for their company? A new strategy for their new product? It’s important to come from a place of how can you help – not only a place of how you can benefit.”
5) Evaluate and build your relationships accordingly
When you first meet someone, it’s practical to evaluate whether the relationship can be tapped into immediately or further down the road, says Behunin.
“If it’s immediately than, I usually like to offer them first-value in exchange for their time or insight, because I don’t think anyone likes to be approached and then told that you need them right away,” she says. For others, who she identifies as possibly being helpful in the future, Behunin continues to build relationships with them long-term either through good referrals or sharing thoughtful articles.
6) Prioritize, sort and filter your contacts
“Networking is most crucial when you don’t know anyone, but once you’ve built a network, then you can filter through who to spend most of your energy on and build those relationships – and actually those relationships will multiply other similar relationships,” says Behunin.
At a some point, you might even look at your LinkedIn contacts or Rolodex and realise that you barely know these faces or names at all. “Sometimes you know so many people, but you don’t really don’t know anyone,” adds Behunin candidly.
“At that point, I would begin prioritizing what’s important to me at a certain job, say HitFox for example, and I would ask myself what our goals were and what was important to us at the moment. Then I would just tune in on that network. Everything else outside of that network, I wouldn’t tune out, but I’d turn it down a bit, because I needed to focus,” she says.
7) Balance building/making and networking
Remember that time spent networking means time not spent building your product/service. Striking a balance between the two is important, says Steidl. She recommends allocating certain days of the week for meetings and then other days for solely working.
Have any other tips on networking for budding entrepreneurs and startups? Let us know below.
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