It can pay big dividends to network with peers and others if you want to succeed in business. You need to get guidance before you start a new venture, connections to investors as you seek funding to scale the business, and expansion and exit insights as the company matures. Just as importantly, your business network can make a sometimes lonely role more enjoyable.
However, networking done right consumes valuable time, and for some of us who are introverts, it’s not so easy at first. In working with many entrepreneurs and career professionals over the years, I have collected my strategies which I offer to all of you as a place to start, and a focus on getting real value for your efforts:
- You make the first move – don’t wait for someone to pick you. If you expect the right people to find you instead of you seeking them out, it will probably take too long or might never happen. Take the initiative to find the ones you need, and do your research on how they can help you, how you can help them, what they like, and what you might have in common. Everyone loves initiative.
- Seek common interests and shared values beyond business. Chemistry and shared values lead to trust and lasting relationships, rather than shallow friendships. Examples would include sports interests, academic connections, and family activities. Whether the business topics are investing or mentoring, networking is personal as well as business.
- Be prepared to exchange business cards and follow up. Make the initial exchange of connection info a simple process, and don’t wait for the other person to initiate a personalized follow up within a few days. Let the relationship build slowly rather than immediately launching into a marketing pitch for investment funds.
- Suggest a non-work meeting to cement the relationship. While the ultimate purpose of networking is a business benefit for all concerned, you will have more fun and better results if you learn to drop the assumption that networking is only a part of your work. Take advantage of those common interests that brought good chemistry initially.
- Have a mindset of giving more than you expect to get. In my experience as an investor, I loved the opportunity to hear about new technologies, but I was put off by entrepreneurs who immediately started asking me for money. Offer to share what you learned from some tough challenges, or provide some personal business insights.
- Keep all network interactions upbeat and positive. You won’t be successful with your networking by exuding negativity. You have to be the role model for the people you want to meet, and I’m sure you appreciate the value of can-do interactions and influencers, versus people who only want to commiserate or get you to solve their problems.
- Never use your senior position to control the networking. Some people have more senior titles or substantial wealth, but they still have challenges and failures, just like the rest of us. I’m sure that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who have acknowledged a mentoring relationship after meeting via networking, never compared titles or net worth.
- Leverage existing networking relationships for new ones. The best way to meet the right new people is to get connected through good current connections. Hopefully, your existing contacts know what you have to offer, as well as what you need, and recognize the benefit of being a connector. You should do the same for them.
In this age of rapid change, you need to be in a constant mode of learning to keep up or potentially get ahead of the crowd. There is no better way to learn than to leverage the experience and knowledge of others.
Simply attending lots of conferences and events and handing out hundreds of business cards won’t facilitate that learning. Be strategic, proactive, and selective in your networking efforts, as suggested here, and you too will soon see the dividends.