Networking has become a bit of a cliché, hasn’t it? Now clichés are what they are for a reason, so I am not disputing the fact that it’s better to be around people than to be a hermit. And, along the way, you will probably come across some opportunities that lead to sales, so I’ve got no issues there. But networking can reach completely different levels beyond sales, and for a young CEO, your most valuable time should be spent looking upwards, not sideways or down.
Now what did I mean by that last statement? You’re a young CEO. You’re blowing and going, kicking arse and eating bangers and mash. There’s only so much time for networking, and there are so many options to choose from. A lot of people will choose a lateral option, such as a group where regional managers meet other regional managers. And I find that many people choose a downward option, such as a regional manager networking with entry-level sales people, perhaps because they are of similar age or the more senior person feels more confident around people with a lesser position. I would take the position that in order of value, the best ways to network in order of most valuable to least valuable would be upward, lateral, and finally downward.
I think there is tremendous value in networking laterally, because no one will understand your experience like someone else going through the exact same stuff. But if you’re a young CEO and you have limited time, I don’t believe you should spend a majority of your time networking with cellphone salespeople. Nothing against it, but I’m guessing you already have a phone and this person is looking for a quick transaction.
As a young CEO, what does it mean to network upward? To network upward, you’re looking for opportunities to make connections with seasoned entrepreneurs and late-stage corporate executives. Perhaps there will be sales opportunities, and they may be more valuable sales than you can find elsewhere, but what you’re mining for is long-lasting relationships.
Seasoned entrepreneurs and late-stage corporate executives are going to be valuable to you for a variety of reasons. They have some things that you probably don’t yet, including:
*Experience: Anything you are going through, they’ve probably been there. They know how to work through it, what the solution is, and can offer moral support that you’re not the only one who has experienced a particular problem.
*Contacts: The networks of your upward links are going to have deeper roots, and they have been able to devote time to making community contacts that can be of service to you later on, such as Chamber of Commerce contacts or bank presidents.
*Motivation to Mentor: I’ve had great success with reaching out to upward links, and have always found that they are open and willing to share some time to help a young CEO. Everyone likes to have their ego stroked and be told that their opinion is important, so do some community service and help out an older CEO today!
*Disposable Income: Let’s be honest here. At some point, you’re going to be looking for capital. Friends and family has a lot of benefits, mainly being that people are taking a risk on you, and not on years of experience or assets that you haven’t accumulated yet. Successful entrepreneurs are natural risk-takers so they understand taking risk on young businesses, and late-stage corporate executives have potentially saved fantastic sums of money and are looking to have a little fun later in life.
So how do we find these types of folks, and how do we develop relationships with them? Well, most people have lunch, and to offer to take someone to lunch is a low-risk decision for someone whose time is extremely valuable. They are often running the networking meetings you used to attend, or they are the featured speaker. Perhaps there is an angel investor meeting that has a list of members on its site, and maybe you don’t want an angel investor, but it’s great to know people who are angel investors. Here are some tips on connecting with the upward links:
- Write them an email after their speech telling them how much you enjoyed it. And when you take them to lunch, buy their lunch. You’re the one who is benefiting from their time.
- Don’t ask for anything during your first meeting. It’s like dating. You need to wine and dine a bit before trying to round third.
- Ask people that are “above” you for their contacts and ideas on possible mentors, so as to make it indirect and less awkward. They may volunteer themselves or have great ideas.
- BE HUMBLE. Someone who has been around the block and been successful will see through fake bravado. They want to know you believe in your idea, but not to the point that you won’t be open to suggestions.
If you spend some time investing in these intangibles, I think you will see a great long term return that will end up being one of the most important assets of your business.
Article by Dave Brown from Coastal Cigars