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So You’re a startup: How to Network

We’re back with some more startup tips! Yes, this series is still going strong – every week we’re bringing you some great advice from people who’ve done it all before. We’ve shared insight on how to pitch, we’ve added our thoughts on how to interview, & this week, we hope to answer all of your questions about networking.

Connections are everything in the startup world. Although making connections for your business may seem like a lot of pressure, it’s actually a great point of focus. You know the ins and outs of your business – after all, you created it. You just have to make sure that you know what you want to get out of the connections you make. It’s crucial to evaluate your startup – where you’re at, where you want to be, and who will help you get there – before you jump into networking.

Walking into a room full of new contacts for the first time or sending that first e-mail to a contact you’re trying to build a relationship with can be daunting. With some good preparation & by learning what’s expected, you can easily overcome these challenges. Connecting with people will be the absolute key to success for your startup and it’s important that you know what to do to make a huge impact!

Preparing To Expose Your Business To The World

Before you can start talking to people about your startup you need to know your pitch backwards and forward. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – be able to summarize your company in one sentence. Also be prepared to answer any questions that come your way – try your short pitch on a friend and see what they ask you.
When you’re talking to people in person or online, you need to specifically tell them why you want to connect. Many people will ignore your emails about “getting coffee sometime” if they have no idea what you’re going to talk about. Be straight up – if you want a mentor, ask for mentorship. If you need money, say you need money. Although it won’t always be the most suave approach, you’ll find that people will respond well to your honesty – at least you’ll know right away if they can’t give you what you’re looking for.

Face To Face: Business Breakfasts, Networking Clubs & Conferences

Most of the time, you’re going to want to make connections with people who will help you succeed. Almost every city has networking breakfasts and clubs that new and established businesses will attend; these events will allow you to experience networking in a pretty low pressure environment. Your fellow networkers will be there to make connections so you’ll have plenty of people to practice your pitch on. Face to face networking may be a bit scarier then sending a tweet or an email, but talking to someone in person has the potential to make a much greater impact.

Always remember that whoever you meet wants to talk about their business too. Be open, listen and take time to understand what they’re offering. Nobody will want to talk to you if you’re not willing to listen to them! Even if you don’t think Contact X can help you right now, he or she may be able to in the future. It really never hurts to make a new contact – who knows, Contact X could have his/her own great connections to share with you.

There are a ton of startup & industry specific conferences so you should definitely try to make it to as many as you can. The people you meet at these events will have a lot of experience and knowledge to pass on and hopefully, they’ll be able to open up many new opportunities for you. Knowing the right people to contact will be crucial – you could even meet some awesome future business partners. Keep an open mind.

Social Media Is Taking Over

Not everyone you network with will be on every social network. Despite this, it’s important to have good, professional profiles set up on all the main sites (depending on your niche different social platforms will be dominant, many people working in the business finance sector prefer LinkedIn whereas you’ll find people promoting brands directly to the public will have a presence on Facebook). This isn’t about what you use to talk to your friends, it’s all about where you’ll find customers and connections.

When you meet or contact people via e-mail you’ll often find that you add each other on social platforms. It’s important to engage positively and immediately with their content. If you are making intelligent, relevant comments on Google+, for example, after one of your new contacts has made a post, not only will they be happy with your response – you’ll be promoting yourself to all of their followers. This is what makes social media so awesome – when you mention someone on Twitter, you can quickly gain exposure (and followers) from a much wider pool than you could ever meet otherwise.

Following Up Contacts Quickly

The absolute most important step when networking is the follow up. If you meet people who are ideal for your business as either partners or customers, the time to take things forward is when you’re fresh in their mind. The longer you leave it the more likely they are to forget about you. If you met someone yesterday and followed up today (as promised) with the information discussed they’re much more likely to read it.

In the tech-filled world of 2012, where you can set reminders on your phone, iPod and computer, there’s no excuse to not call Contact Y on Wednesday at 11:00 or to miss your lunch meeting with Contact Z. If you’re serious about networking, you won’t forget about keeping up with the important connections you’ve made.

Networking can quickly take over if you don’t curate who you meet and when. Be sure you know what you want out of each networking opportunity, keep an open mind when you are meeting new people with the realization that they may not help you immediately, but may have the leads to get you where you want to. Always be evaluating the effectiveness of each networking opportunity against your time. Your time is valuable, it is an ongoing balance to ensure you’re focusing on the growth and development of your start up.

Have any networking tips or success stores? Share with us in the comments!

And tune in next week to learn about finding investment! Money is out there, you’ve just got to find it.