What the hell is networking? The formal definition goes something like this: “Interacting with others to develop professional and social relationships”
In plain terms, it is meeting new people or catching up with aquantancies to create a stronger social or business relationship.
Networking feels fake to a lot of people: they get the feeling that people are there to “use” each other. In reality, you are offering people something of value to them and they are offering something of value to you. In effective networking, there needs to be an exchange.
Tip 0.1: Be careful when people give you tips – tip from Gonzalo Costa
There are no tips, just advice from experience. Take them with a grain of salt.
Tip 1: Most networking events are not for you
As an entrepreneur you do not need to attend every meetup, event, conference and gathering in town. Most are, quite frankly, a waste of time for your company, time you don’t have.
If you are going to a networking event of any sort, have a clear objective, see if that objective can actually be met at that event, and try to pre-screen people who you definitively want to meet. Maybe your objective is looking to just meet people in X ecosystem, industry or vertical and that’s perfectly fine so long as you are at the right place to meet them.
Or maybe it’s just to have fun and see what the evening brings and that is, again, perfectly fine. Don’t be dissapointed, however, if you didn’t meet that awesome investor you wanted to talk to. After all, that was not why you went there.
Tip 2: Warm intros are well worth the trouble
People are busy. And in networking events, they are also tired and sometimes overwhelmed. You probably know a person, who knows a person, who knows that person you want to meet (LinkedIn, Connect.com, etc will help you with this). Ask to be introduced to them. In a lot of cases, they will check with your “target” before they introduce you to them, to see if it is something they are potentially interested in. This is great! If they do introduce you, then you know they have some interest, at the very least, in listening to you. If they don’t agree, then you won’t have wasted their time and yours.
Tip 3: Be yourself (unless you are a jerk)
Honesty goes a long way in relationships, business or otherwise. Plus no one likes posers. If you do not care about manners, politeness or professional courtesy, then fake it. (It would be a lot better if you were a nice, easy going and polite person, but this is not a self-help article.)
This also extends to when you are pitching your company/product to someone:
- If you have a buggy beta, explain what you are aiming for and how long it will take you to get there
- If you are planning on growing but still haven’t raised the funds, be honest and mention any prospects you may have or why you still have none
- If you have had trouble serving a segment mention it, and explain why this time it will be better/different
The worst thing you can do is set unrealistic expectations of yourself or your product. Imagine you meet someone at a fancy club, who talks about their Tesla and later picks you up in his/her Prius. Well, investors/clients get the same feeling when you pitch them your “Unicorn” and it’s nothing but a pony with a party hat.
Tip 4: Follow up
Business relationships, same as in any kind of relationship, need nurturing. If you have recently met someone of great potential value to you or your company, follow up as soon as possible. Which is right about when you get back to your office/hotel/home. The sooner, the better!
There are basically three effective ways of following up:
1. If you have something that can add value to them right now, try to set up a follow up meeting, call or demo.
2. If you don’t have something right now, don’t tell them about the “Unicorn”, just say it’s been great and that you’ll follow up when it makes sense.
3. If you just had a great chat, touch base to stay in touch.
Tip 5: Get out of your confort zone! – tip from Eduardo Amadeo
Going to an event where you know little to no people is hard. It can feel awkward. But those events tend to be the most productive networking-wise. You are forced to get to know new people and can avoid being tempted to just catch-up with a friend or acquaintance. We all tend, to an extent, to go to events where we have friends and can relax more, but the further away you get from your confort zone, the bigger the possibilities of meeting completely new people.
Tip 6: Entrepreneurs are ALWAYS networking
No, you should not go to every networking event on earth (see tip 1). But you never know where your next client, advisor, investor or talent might come from. Always keep an open mindset when meeting new people for business or socially. And never, ever, treat people badly. After all, social networks not only exist online, they tend to be a reflection of the actual world.