As entrepreneurs, we’re constantly being told to network, connect, or whatever else popular buzzword we have going on at the time. While networking is commonly defined as “exchanging information and ideas for business and social purposes”, today we’re going to look at it from a little bit of a different approach.
Instead of thinking about it as networking, we’re going to focus more on making genuine connections. This will guide give you the tools you need to not only form relationships but partnerships that could last a lifetime.
The Sooner You Start, The Better
A lot of entrepreneurs wonder when the best time to start networking is. Some have a fear that if they start putting themselves out there too early, then they run the risk of coming off as a ‘talker’ with nothing to show. However, as networking expert Alice Heiman notes, the best time to start networking is when you start building your product.
Even if your product isn’t perfect, it’s important to start talking about in a professional capacity as much as possible. This will help you get better at not only becoming comfortable with your elevator pitch but becoming a better salesperson in general. Additionally, as your product is in its infancy, this is the best opportunity for feedback on how it can be improved or even if people are getting excited about it.
Find the Events You Genuinely Want To Go To
As much as it sounds like a necessary evil, networking shouldn’t be an obligation or chore. No, this is the time to connect with the people that are just as passionate about your industry as you are. Even if your town or city is limited to a small circle of the same “professional networking” events a lot of us dread, it’s important to look outside what you’d consider ‘networking.’
A good place to start is with all of the social media channels you subscribe to. Go through the thought leaders and influencers you want to connect with and figure out what type of events they’re at, even if it’s something completely unrelated to your field. Additionally, search hashtags related to your interests and follow the noteworthy folks that are contributing to the conversation. This can also be an ideal time to develop a sense of where your potential audience/customers are engaging online.
Finally, if you’re still looking for a starting point beyond social media, The Networking Gurus have compiled an excellent list of places to get your feet wet.
Walk the Walk
Successful networkers can woo the best of them. Not by taking people out to $1,000 dinners or yacht parties, but by respecting people as people.
Yes, believe it or not, the rule “treat others the way you want to be treated” is still the golden standard for networking. However, I’ll note this comes with a few stipulations.
For example, if you’re trying to land an angel investor for your startup, then taking them out to dinner is a classic move to say you care. But be mindful of what you can afford as an investor also wants to see that you know how to spend within your limits. The gesture means more than where you actually went (although, if you can be savvy and trendy at the same time, then that definitely warrants bonus points).
Make no mistake though, taking people out is something that should be meaningful rather than a daily habit. There’s no guarantee to it providing the results you desire, and as such, it can be a quick way to burn through money. However, if this approach is one you feel is a necessity than I highly recommend getting a rewards card such as SELECT to optimize your spend and your experiences. SELECT is a popular gen z card and community that gives its members access to exclusive events, pricing, and perks at thousands of locations. Free drinks at a trendy bar or lounge with potential clients? Check. The card helps entrepreneurs realize that perception does in fact create reality.
Keep In Touch
This step is one of the most important for your efforts to be considered genuine. It’s what separates those we consider ‘pushy used car salesman’ from our friends.
Take the time to actually learn people’s names and at least a couple facts to follow-up with them about. Send personalized messages on birthdays, events, etc. Even if you see on LinkedIn that they just landed a new contract or partnership, take the extra two seconds to text them rather than just writing “Congrats!” on their wall. It speaks volumes when others notice that you’ve paid attention and a feeling that they’ll soon follow.
The Muse has a great list of tips you can check out here on follow-ups, and I highly encourage for you to give it a look. This is probably the most important step to going from ‘networker’ to ‘friend.’ Follow it, and you’ll build relationships that could last a lifetime.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.