Most entrepreneurs know networking is important, but they may not realize just how crucial it is to the success of their new venture.
“Building a network helps entrepreneurs get their product to market and get the right people in place,” says Alice Heiman, networking and sales expert. Heiman suggests five basic rules for building a trusted network that will help your startup succeed.
1. Start early. “Start building your network when you start building your product,” Heiman says. Developing, creating, improving and finally perfecting your product or service is important, but entrepreneurs can become so focused on making something people want that they forget to make personal connections. “If you focus in on just that product, you’re missing the opportunity to start building your network,” she says.
2. Make a list. So you know when to start building a network. The next question is, how? “The first thing I recommend is you make a list,” Heiman says, noting that entrepreneurs are going to need help with their business, whether in manufacturing, financing, marketing or some other vital step. “Start thinking about what kind of people you will need in order to get your product to market,” she says. Write that information down—then the search begins.
3. Take advantage of available resources. There are great free resources to help entrepreneurs in the early stages of product and business development, such as SCORE. Heiman recommends visiting your local SCORE branch; it’s an ideal starting point for building your network. With 364 chapters nationwide and more than 13,000 volunteers with experience in 62 industries, chances are there is a SCORE location near you with knowledgeable people who would be happy to join your network.
4. Do your homework. When you’re busy starting a business, time is a commodity of which you will never have enough. Before wasting it on trying to make a connection with someone, do your homework and make sure you can both benefit each other. Heiman gives an example: If you’re in the technology industry, you don’t want to spend time pitching a firm that only invests in fruit companies. Refer to your list and seek individuals who can either fulfill the roles you need or who might be able to introduce you to someone who can. If you catch yourself attempting to connect with the wrong source, you can always ask if he or she can refer you to someone else.
5. Make a real connection. Clicking “friend” isn’t enough. “My definition of networking is connecting,” Heiman says. “I want my network to be one of people who know me, like me and trust me, because that is the only usable network.” So what is the best way to make that connection? Heiman says introductions are always best. You can use whatever route is easiest for you—online or off. But whatever approach you take, be sure to build a genuine relationship. “Let them know a little bit about you,” she says. “Bring some value into their life.”
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