Being an entrepreneur is no easy feat. Becoming an entrepreneur is almost like reaching another level of adulthood – now there is no one looking over you and making sure you’re fulfilling your KPI’s and no real need to set your alarm for early mornings. From the moment you start your venture, you are thrown into the deep end of the pool with no time to practice doggy paddling. One skill that is crucial, above everything else, is networking – the ability to create value from relationships.
Networking is the fundamental skill that any entrepreneur needs to master, and needs to master quickly to move a business forward. In fact, a lot of businesses stand still because in the minds of their founders networking counts as collecting hundreds of business cards from a tier 3 conference and never reaching out again.
There are many ‘guides’ to networking, but here are some unconventional tips on how to get the most from your efforts. If I knew this when I started, things would have been a lot easier.
1. Make it normal routine, a lifestyle
If you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t work a 9-5, you work 24/7. Some very valuable relationships can be made at a bar with a pint on a Saturday, or at the gym. One very successful entrepreneur once told me that his most fruitful networking experience was at his grandmothers funeral, where he got the chance to meet and chat with tens of highly important people. Your business should become part of your daily life and its development – a personal goal.
2. Utilize your network’s network
Oftentimes your immediate connections might not be the right fit, however they might know someone that could be of extreme help. Until you ask and do your research, you will never know. Stalk your new connection on LinkedIn (for professional reasons obviously!), Google his company, previous partners and colleagues. Ask if your contact might know someone that might help you. Do your research!
3. Be careful who you introduce to who
Making bad introductions indicates unprofessionalism in the industry and bad judgement. Avoid making bad introductions at all times. Just because you met someone who has a software development firm, doesn’t mean you need to introduce him to your cousin who is into ‘computers’. Bad introductions are a sure buzzkill.
4. Follow up!
If you met with someone, be sure to follow up somehow with a reminder about what was discussed and the next steps. Depending on the circumstance, follow ups can be done through many mediums: if it’s a highly professional contact, strictly email. If it’s someone on your level, text, LinkedIn and Facebook works fine. A lot of people forget about this very important step in making connections. A simple message brings your relationship from acquaintance status to connection status.
5. Have a way to share your contacts easily
The best networking happens super quickly, you discuss an issue, agree to meet up afterwards to talk through everything and move on to meeting other people. Business cards have been the standard of this practice for a long while, but business cards are boring and get lost quickly. The world is moving away to digital solutions. DROP is an example of a first contact application that allows people to exchange numbers, emails, social and professional network profiles and much more with a single tap.
6. At events, connect in places where people are not in ‘networking’ mode
This is counterintuitive, but when people are networking, their mind narrows down to a specific protocol. If the person is someone that a lot of people want to connect with, they oftentimes go on autopilot. Some of the most important connections I made were made in a queue while getting food, or while smoking a cigarette outside (disclaimer: smoking is bad, m’kay). People are often trying to take a ‘break’ from the fuss, so if you play your cards rights, you might be able to catch some highly valuable people that normally you never would. I managed to personally connect to Mike Butcher, Editor-in-chief of Techcrunch because I was outside taking a breath of fresh air and noticed him sitting on the bench. The moment he walked into the venue he was swarmed with people.
7. Use your investors, Luke!
Assuming you have funding, your investors are incredible assets. People don’t utilize this source as much as they should, because they don’t know how to ask the right questions. Only you know what your business does, and only you know the specific people and companies that you need to reach out to. Use your investors to gain the right introductions. Be specific when asking.
8. Be persistent in everything, including networking
Despite what some people think, being persistent is always a good thing. There is a fine line between being persistent and being obnoxious, but no one will ever judge you for trying hard to get something. Being persistent illustrates a competence and ambition, and that is never a negative feat. The go-to story is of Colonel Sanders, who’s chicken recipe was turned down 1007 times before someone said yes and he started his empire.