Every entrepreneur or budding business professional knows that networking is crucial, as who you know often determines what you get or how you do. From my experiences and observing those who have had great entrepreneurial success, I’ve realized that there are several key components to advance from a traditional, Grade B networker to a Grade A networker that creates impact and builds long-lasting relationships. They are the following:
Everyone knows that having a mentor(s) is important, but it is who you engage and why you engage that person that really matters. Before every meeting with an advisor or mentor, answer the crucial questions of: who, what and why? Knowing who they are means digging deep into their strengths and background and finding out how you can utilize their expertise to further your venture. Then, answer “what” as a way of coming up with the exact points and questions you will bring up in the conversation. Chances are that the person you are meeting is a very busy person. Minimize on the fluff and have a focus going into the conversation to maximize time and energy.
As an example, I once sent a message to Stephen Baldwin explaining how and why I thought collaborating would be a good idea. He received the message positively which led to having coffee in New York. During the meeting, again I made it very clear as to why I was meeting with him and what I wanted to accomplish. This led to him introducing me to Donald Trump Jr. and next thing I know, 48 hours later we were on a three way conference call with Mr. Trump himself. As you can imagine, they are both extremely busy people. The first words that came out of Donald Trump Jr.’s mouth were, “You have five minutes to tell me what you have to tell me, then I have to go.” Because I had a clear vision of what my “ask” what going to be, the conversation, although brief, went very well. I keep thinking back on that moment and say, “What if I didn’t know what I wanted to talk to him about?” I would have not only made a fool out of myself, but I would’ve wasted very valuable time.
The last question is the most important. It is the question that a lot of people forget: “Why am I meeting with this person? What value do they add to my life?” As an entrepreneur, productivity and efficiency should be top priorities. I cannot tell you how many times I see people who schedule meetings just for the sake of talking to a successful person. Yes, surrounding yourself with executives and serial entrepreneurs is a good thing, but if you are spending more time wondering how they can help you, rather than actually getting work done, your precious time being an entrepreneur is being wasted.
First of all, get an account. Second, once you do, don’t forget you have one. Have it on your home screen, download the mobile app and actively update your profile and activities. You might ask, “Why should I have yet another profile of myself?” It’s simple. We as entrepreneurs are busy running our businesses on a daily basis so we cannot always go to all the dinners and meet ups as we want. We also want to get in touch with a lot of people, whether they are investors, potential customers or advisors. LinkedIn is a great platform to do this. However, don’t take it for granted. I often compare sending a cold invitation to connect, to poking someone on Facebook. You are letting that person know you are there but often times leaving them to think what you might want and how they found you. So, instead of using the generic message of “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn,” add a little more
context. For example, “Sharon, we briefly met at a conference a few weekends ago, I’d love to continue our conversation,” or “I greatly admire your work with solar energy, I am working on a venture of my own that utilizes this system. I’d love to receive your input.” Lastly, remember that building long lasting business relationships is just like building friendships and romantic relationships. Many people put off making connections until the day they need something. Just because that person approved your connection request does not mean that they will help you or even listen to what you have to say. Start making the necessary steps early, to gain people’s trust and recognition.
Let’s start with the necessities: business cards, a 30 second pitch and a mental list. Always carry business cards. You never know who you are going to bump into. I once met a successful entrepreneur who admitted that she had met her biggest customer in the ladies’ room. It also shows that you are professional and prepared. At networking events and conferences, people don’t have the time nor interest, to listen the story of how you became an entrepreneur or hear your 10 minute sales pitch. Think of it as speed dating. Nail a pitch that briefly tells who you are and what you do. For example, “I co-founded a company about a year ago called ___ that integrates social networks with hospitals in order to provide patients immediate feedback on their results.” If that person is interested in learning more about what you do, they will ask you.
Lastly, coming up with a mental list simply means doing your research. For many large conferences, the list of speakers will often be displayed on their website. Go through the list before the conference, and pick the top 5 people that you want to meet. This way you will have a set goal of meeting specific people going into the conference. Once at the event, don’t be afraid to go up to the person and introduce yourself. At first, you might be intimidated or shy to approach such an important and impressive person. However, think of how bad you would feel if you had missed an opportunity to meet someone you admire and possibly work with.
Out of all of this, one main point to take away is that there is no set “success equation” for networking. However, remember that there really is no set equation for anything when living the life of an entrepreneur. It is the nature of our business to be constantly learning, morphing and progressing as individuals. With this in mind and the persistence to drive your inner networker, you will find yourself more connected than you left off. Good luck. E
Caroline is an avid networker and student entrepreneur. As a lover of technology and risk, she co-founded the company, VirtualU,Inc. which has developed accurate 3D human scanning technology. Connect with her on Twitter @Caroline_Pugh or LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/carolinepughv/
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Category: Startup Advice