How to build your personal network from scratch
Trying to have a good network is like trying to be healthy. Everyone wants it but very few follow what it takes to get it. If you are getting into startups, you will eventually figure out that you need to have a lot of learning, access to people and a network of people for support.
The richest people in the world look for and build networks,
everyone else looks for work. Marinate on that for a minute
- Robert T. Kiyosaki, Author, Rich Dad Poor Dad
The best time to network is before you actually need it. When I quit my first job and wanted to start up, the first question that came to my mind was, “How and where should I start?” After three-and-a-half years in meetups and events, I managed to meet more than 6,200 people and have organised, volunteered or attended more than 100 meetups. Here are a few things I figured out that work in most of the cases.
So here are few a tips:
- Pre-meetup preparation:
Here are things you need to remember:
i) What are you wanting to be known for?
Being known for something is like brand recall. When we say networking, people should remember you for something, be it your skill, idea, or something you are looking for (say, tech co-founders?).
ii) Find events
There are a lot of meetups and communities that are growing in every city. Here are a few places to look at:
Meetup.com and Startup Saturday:
There are communities from 531 cities in India on Meetup.com and if you are live in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai etc., you are most likely to find more than 50 to 100 meetups revolving around startups. All you need to do is a simple keyword and location search. Startup Saturday is one group I admire. It is in more than 12 cities.
Organisations supporting startups:
Meetup.com and Start up Saturday help you meet like-minded people in your own city and help you grow your network. But, if you are looking for mentor-level connections or founders of growing companies, I recommend you look at organisations that run programmes like TiE, NASSCOM events etc. You can try attending introductory events for entrepreneur programmes like Startup Leadership Program, Founder Institute etc. If you get through and join the programme, then its even better. Startup Weekend and In50hours are two more platforms to look at. You can also find more on YourStory Events.
Accelerators, incubator and co-working spaces:
If you are starting up, you would want to get mentored, get some investment and have people around you to support your journey. Accelerators, incubators and sometimes co-working spaces add value in the same way. These places are even looked up by inventors and a lot of business partners. Make a simple Google search to find active events. You might end up in one of them some day.
Business card myth:
Having a business card is good but if you are not attending events because you do not have business cards, I would say you don’t really need them. If you like to meet someone, take their contact directly. It is pretty normal.
Once you find the events, here are a few things you could do:
- Look familiar in the crowd (hint: go early)
The one thing that always worked for ages is social proof. If people know that you know the organisers in the event, it builds authenticity and more recall. Here is a simple hack.
Try going early to an event and have conversations with the organisers and volunteers there. For people who enter after you, you would come across as someone who has connections with the event and organisers, which builds more authenticity and recall. This can sound really stupid but it works.
- Be proactive:
Be proactive and show lot of enthusiasm at events. If you are really passionate about what you are doing (even networking), it will just show in your words, actions and body language.
- Three-minute networking:
My first boss at CIE, IIITH is really good at talking to all the people in the room and told me that it just takes three minutes to make an impression, and I think that that's true. Try meeting as many people as you can in the networking time after any event. Do not spend more than three minutes with each person. Sometimes, your potential business partner can be in the same room but you would never be able to figure out, if you are not speaking to enough people. Make a note about people who you want to follow up and meet later. Post-networking should be only about getting to know more about the people in depth.
If you are wondering what to ask in those three minutes, simply follow this – ask them what they do, from when they are doing it and what they are currently up to. This information and the way they go about telling it to you will help you gauge the person and your interest in them.
- Forty-minute follow-up meeting:
It's quite normal to make snap judgements in the three minutes we speak to someone. It takes 40 minutes to make someone understand you and vice versa.
Once you make list of people you want to meet, make an agenda on why you want to meet them. If they are a startup enthusiast like you, you can directly call them up and invite them over coffee for discussing about your idea.
If they are founders of growing business or mentors, you need to be extra clear on your purpose of meeting. You will be surprised how many people will be willing to spend time for those meetings. Three to four such meetings a week is generally good.
- Be frequent and be visible
I used to conduct or attend an event at least once or twice a week initially. But when you start up, it would be impossible to keep up with events. So, it's better you build the network and self-visibility even before you need it. Attending events frequently helps people recall you easily.
- Give before you ask.
The best way to build a good network is by giving and helping. It can be some information, contact or even spending time to listen to people.
- Pro tip
Start your own meetup group.
If you are a growing startup this might not help you, but if you are trying to start up, this is a great way to differentiate yourself and grow, with the help of the right people.
About the Author:
Manoj is Founder @ Zenty.co , a platform that help focused communities gets sponsored from local businesses and brands. Runs his own own meetup group(Startup Talks) in Hyderabad and Bangalore. When not in office or meetups he speaks about being healthy but pro at Junk Food.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)