Networking is a powerful tool when it comes to ensuring the success of your brand by widening the range of your contacts and resources. Any entrepreneur or small-time business owner can assure you of this.
Right from getting the word out there about your company, to meeting the right people who could work for you, provide capital for you, be your potential clients — through networking you can achieve it all. Therefore, when it comes to startups and networking, it isn’t a matter of optional so much as fundamental.
What you need to understand right off the bat is that networking is not mere socialising. For your networking efforts to pay off, you need to be effective with your personal interactions. It matters where you are seen and who you spend the most time with.
An easy checklist that can come handy before you attend a networking event is:
- Write down your goals
- Find out the kind of people who can help you achieve the goals
- How can you establish contact and then a relationship with them
- Don’t limit yourself to direct prospects
- Follow up with connections made
Now we’ll get into the details.
Make sure you know what you want. To ensure that you use your networking time effectively, have a goal in mind. Are you looking for possible investors? Or maybe you want a technical co-founder. Or it is the core team for your company that you are looking for?
Accordingly, select the right conference, seminar, or trade show.
Do Your Homework
Don’t just turn up at the event and expect conversations to spark off all round. Remember what we spoke about networking being different from socialising? You want to make sure you connect with the right people — the ones you can benefit from, and the ones for whom you can be beneficial.
Once your event has been selected, look up who the attendees are. Social media can work to your advantage here.
The simplest thing to do:
Get the word out there that you are attending the event. Notice how they’ve used the relevant hashtag? This way you can engage with others too attending the event.
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It’s likely that you will have a list of people you would like to meet with in person at the conference. Most events also publish a list of attendees.
Add people from that list to yours. Next step is to make connections.
Follow them, contact them on LinkedIn and maybe send them a personal message.
By already having a conversation with them prior to the actual meeting, you can also do away with the banality that is small talk. A connection has been established online, leaving you free to directly get to the beef of your discussion when you meet.
This is a great way to save time as well, allowing you and your contact to engage with more people.
Facebook is another platform on which you can get the word out that you will be attending XYZ event. Like the event page and check the roster of attendees.
Keep in mind, that when people know you are attending the event as well, they will be looking you up too the same way you had been doing with them. Ensure that your online brand is interesting and updated.
This could easily lead to someone reaching out to you to get a conversation started.
Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
In your rush to attend the right events and learning more about the attendees, don’t forget about preparing yourself for meeting people. When someone asks you about yourself or your company, don’t fumble wondering what to say or go on a ramble that’ll bore the listener.
Have a concise answer ready, talking about what the company does and how they benefit customers. Talking about your role is also a good idea as it helps the people you are talking to to understand in what capacity you could help them individually.
Talk passionately about what you do and like, make them share your interest and this way your name will come to mind if a relevant opportunity comes up.
During The Event
You could start with something as simple as wearing a t-shirt with your logo printed on it. This helps with recall, and could even act as a conversation-starter. Anyone could walk up to you and ask about your logo, what it means, which the company is and what you do.
And there’s your in.
When talking to people, make sure not to centre the conversation exclusively around yourself. You’ll be remembered better if you’ve shown an interest in the other person.
By listening well, you can also identify who are the people that can help each other. The person you meet may not be able to directly contribute to your business, but may know someone who’s looking for someone like you.
This way, you’re not just networking, but building a network. The distinction is that by establishing connections with people who aren’t necessarily helpful to your business in a direct capacity, a whole gateway of networking possibilities are being opened to you all the same.
An introduction through a common connection comes with a certain level of pre-established trust and credibility, making it easier for you to build that relationship.
Post-Event Follow Up
Your work doesn’t end with making a connection at an event. Once you get back home begins your work of following up. Remember, every person you have met has made multiple other connections as well.
In order to place yourself in the easily recollective memory of people, reach out to them soon after getting back, referencing the conversation you had with them and anything in common you had that helped the connection to be made.
Did you make any plans to meet again? Did they assure you an introduction to one of their contacts? Follow up on any plans you may have made with them.
Always respect the fact that relationships are two-way streets. Don’t just ask for things to be done. Think about how you could help the person who is helping you.
Read an article recently that is relevant to that person’s field? Send it across. Know someone who could be of use to your new contact?
Introduce them. These simple things will lend further credibility to your relationship, perhaps even cementing a real friendship.
In a couple of months after the conference, drop a message saying hello. You don’t need to ask for anything everytime. Just keep the relationship fresh.
Never forget, networking is an investment that could reap lots of benefits for you. Turn any occasion possible into business networking opportunity for yourself and watch changes come over your career and business.
[This article is contributed by Explara]