Networking is extremely important for entrepreneurs. Most of the startupreneurs are restricted in time and resources, therefore a good network can help them access suppliers, markets, information and guidance necessary for their startup’s development. I understood the importance of networking while working as an intrapreneur at the beginning of my career and since then have been able to build a robust professional network that I leverage and get support from now as an entrepreneur.
Start your networking with people you know. Among them, look for key characteristics like competency, dependability, and helpfulness that can be useful in your entrepreneurial venture. Focus more on proactive networking and reach out to people. This will also help you in tapping into other people’s networks. Over time your network will grow through reactive networking of others in the ecosystem. Typically your start-up network should have people from your suppliers, customers, service providers, industry ecosystem including your competitors, financial services, government officials and policy makers, colleagues and key contacts from your past work places, key connects from your alumni groups, industry specific experts and professionals, among others. However, your focus should not be on building a very large network, but on the intensity of the network. You can build the intensity by selecting the right people and communicating with them regularly to keep the network alive.
While communicating with your network, remember to project your ideas as professionally as possible, be prompt in returning calls and replying to e-mails, refrain from talking bad about people, do not reveal and talk about your flaws, and don’t whine. Keep details of your network contacts handy and periodically update the key information. Remember that its not only ‘who you know’ but what really counts is ‘what they know about you’ for building and managing an effective network.
Some best practices of effective networking are,
- Establish a relationship with people much before you need them. People who have known you for a while will be more inclined to help you.
- Understand what you can do for others as this will help you set your expectations right while asking for help from your network.
- Attend conferences, trade shows, social events, lectures, etc and meet people. Making the first impression is the key here. So do not talk too much, ask smart questions and let them talk. Never forget to carry your business cards and pass it while you are introducing yourself.
- Unless you are rock sure of your points, do not contradict others.
- Read stuff beyond your direct professional subject, and expand your information horizon. This will help you connect with a wider audience while engaging them in intelligent conversations.
The final tip: Grow it. Nourish it. Reap it.