Business networking and relationships are crucial for entrepreneurs. And while you can hope that flesh-and-blood success happens by accident, far more deals are born and ideas launched by rubbing elbows at the golf course or at chamber of commerce events than have ever been generated by knocking on doors.
So you must actively network with peers, experts, financiers, and anyone else that can help you in your quest to start a business and make it a success. If you do, it can be one of the best ways to accelerate the growth of your startup venture.
Here are some ideas for effective business networking:
Choose your spots: Deliberately and actively look for events that give you prime networking opportunities. If your business is national, going to the right seminar or trade show can be like shooting fish in a barrel – even if you do have to fly cross-country. Local business owners can scour area media for events where they’re likely to encounter B2B customers, vendors, service providers or even influential consumers.
Work the opportunity: Prioritize events where networking is part of the purpose. Make sure there’s time to socialize instead of just sitting down for dinner and listening to a speaker. Come alone so that you can meet new people, and don’t spend much time talking with individuals whom you already know. Target people when they’re standing alone, and plan your personal introduction. From there, it’s up to you!
Lend a shoulder: Many entrepreneurs forge their best contacts by working with others on a project or committee where everyone is striving genuinely to achieve some outside objective. This may be an industry-wide standards-setting group or a fund-raising committee for a local charity. For Ed Neff, for example, volunteer service on local nonprofit boards allows him to contribute back to his Troy, NY community at the same time that fellow participants learn more about his risk-management consultancy, Compass Co. And there’s always the traditional networking function provided by service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis.
Hand out those business cards: As the recognized currency of the networking realm, business cards can be a powerful weapon. Take them seriously, and take them with you even if you’re in your bathing suit! Print them by the hundreds and hand them out liberally. And use the space wisely on these mini-billboards. Donald Kirkendall, for example, developed a two-sided business card whose reverse side lists the various services offered by his Affordable One Insurance agency in Orlando.
Delve for contacts online: As in everything else that demands being connected to people, the internet can be a great tool for networking efficiently. The StartupNation community offers a direct way for you search for fellow contacts that share your interests and learn from the wisdom of our community of entrepreneurs.
Find a way to add value: As in everything else, come up with a networking twist that differentiates you. For example, if you’re attending a national convention in a hotel, get a room that is large enough to entertain and send out invitations for a get-together. That way, you establish your own best conditions for networking and become a group champion.
Plant a hook: Always create opportunities for conversation down the road. And make sure you find out how your new contact prefers to communicate: Everyone has an e-mail address, for instance, but many people still either don’t bother or don’t have time to check it.
Our Bottom Line:
You don’t need to leave it to chance! Follow these steps and you can turn most occasions into an opportunity to use business networking in building your startup.