Can you believe it’s almost June 30th and the end of Q2? I feel like the first part of the year has just flown by!
Now that it’s summer, it’s time for barbecues, parties, and events — all perfect opportunities for networking and especially if you’re an entrepreneur (because let’s be honest, we entrepreneurs never really turn off our business brains)! I’ve been attending so many events and at the last one, a conversation got started about how great these events were for building relationships. That reminded me of an article I was interviewed for in Entrepreneur Magazine several years ago about how entrepreneurs and business leaders can build their networks, especially in the early days. I hope these ideas provide some help to you as we launch into our summer networking and you launch or grow your business.
1. Start early
Start building your network when you start building your product. While it’s important to create your product or service and to continuously improve it, don’t forget that you need people to buy the result! Sometimes entrepreneurs can focus too much on making something people want and forget to make personal connections. If you focus on just the product, you’re missing the opportunity to start building your network. These relationships will be critical as you grow.
2. Make a list
The first step to building your network is to make a list of the kinds of people you will need to get your product to the market. Will you need contacts in manufacturing, financing, or marketing? What type of prospects will you be looking for? Start brainstorming and write down your ideas. These will become your launching point to build your list. It’s never too late to do this.
3. Take advantage of available resources
When you first start your entrepreneurial journey, you may feel as if money is just flying out of your wallet. Networking can help you find resources. The bigger your network is the easier it will be to find board members, mentors, investors, employees and other needed resources. Being well networked will lead you to know about free resources for entrepreneurs in the early stages of product and business development. I recommend visiting your local SCORE branch. SCORE is a nonprofit association that provides mentoring, tools, and workshops to help new and mature businesses thrive. Find a local branch near you here: score.org.
4. Do your homework
There’s one thing even the richest CEO can’t buy more of: time. When you’re starting a business, your time is your most valuable asset, so make sure you’re using it wisely when you network. Before you start connecting willy-nilly, do some research on people you want to reach out to and make sure there is mutual benefit. For example, if you’re starting a business in the tech industry, don’t waste your time networking to people who only invest in food startups. Go back to the list you made and look for people who can either fill the roles you need or who can introduce you to someone who can. If you accidentally connect with the wrong source, ask if he or she can refer you to someone else. This is true even if you have been in business for years.
5. Make a real connection
My definition of networking is connecting. I want my network to be made of people who know me, like me and trust me because that is the only useful network. If you want to build a network like that, start by staying connected to and nurturing those you know and then asking them for introductions to the people you want to connect with. You can ask for these introductions online or in person. However, when you connect, make sure you focus on creating a genuine relationship. Let them know a little bit about you. Bring some value into their life before asking for anything or selling.