Networking for Entrepreneurs: Here’s How to Get Powerful Results
By Lynne Beverly Strang
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Like or not, that old axiom is still true.
Networking is critical for entrepreneurs. Whether a startup obtains certain product lines, negotiates affordable supplier rates, recruits qualified employees, bids on certain projects, reaches key markets – or achieves just about any goal – often depends upon its relationships.
If you dread the cocktail scene and its superficiality, take heart. There is a better way to cultivate new connections that can help you grow your business.
Sometimes networking for entrepreneurs produces disappointing results because of a misguided mindset. All too often, people go to an event wondering, “What’s in it for me?” The better question to ask is “How can I help others?”
“Our job, as networkers, is to pay attention to the person in front of us – and to help that person find the people they’re looking for,” says Basile Lemba, founder of the Fairfax Networking Breakfast Club near Washington, D.C. Lemba also teaches a class on networking basics that includes the concept of “Interesting vs. Interested” (Don’t worry about whether you’re interesting. Instead, be interested in others).
One long-time advocate of the pay-it-forward approach is Bob Littell, the Atlanta-based creator of “NetWeaving.” Let’s say you have two contacts who you think would benefit from meeting each other. As a “NetWeaver,” you provide an introduction, help the two parties exchange bios and arrange to meet in person.
When they get together, a new partnership forms, or they find other ways to help each other. Later, they follow up with you to let you know how the meeting went. As Littell explains on his website, the philosophy behind NetWeaving is “give first in order to receive.”
How do you benefit from connecting others? For one thing, there’s the gratification that comes from facilitating a new business partnership that leads to exciting – and sometimes life changing – results.
The people you connect may become valued members of your network who provide information or advice you need to achieve strategic objectives. And who knows – they might return the favor and provide a pivotal connection for you one day.
In addition to a selfless approach, consider these networking-for-entrepreneurs tips:
Follow up. If you tell a contact you’ll do something, do it. This is the most important part of networking for entrepreneurs. It’s also where people usually drop the ball.
Be patient. It takes time to build trust and form long-lasting relationships. Eighty percent of sales happen after the fourth follow-up, notes Lemba.
Mix it up. Use a combination of in-person and social media outreach to build your network. LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network on the Internet, gives you access to groups of professionals in your field (or one you aspire to join).
Volunteer. It’s a great way to meet civic-oriented business leaders while giving back to your community.
Think holistically. A common mistake, says Lemba, is to view networking as an isolated activity that takes place at separate business events. Ideally, connecting and helping others should be a constant, ongoing process and a way of life.
Stay in touch. Call or email your contacts occasionally just to see how they’re doing. According to a recent LinkedIn global survey, less than half (48%) of professionals say they keep in touch with their network when things are going well in their career.
Keep at it. Like most other skills, networking for entrepreneurs requires regular practice. Dedicate time each week towards maintaining and adding relationships.
Not every networking event yields a sale or new contract. But when your primary objective is learning about others and helping them succeed, good karma results. What goes around, comes around.
Lynne Beverly Strang (www.lynnebeverlystrang.com) is a freelance writer and the author of “Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.” Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.