Business networking is probably the most effective way for startup founders to achieve success ‑ be it opening up new business opportunities, recruiting key talent, or meeting that key investor. “An obvious choice for business success is building a good network”.
The key challenge is how does one develop this network and make connections? Having spent more than a decade working with startups and organising countless forums/events to facilitate networking for founders, the key to building a great network is to focus on building long-term relationships.
Today, I have over 5,000 connections on LinkedIn and some of my friends/colleagues say that I have great network! But, experience says that having such high number of connections may also make you feel like that famous adage: Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!
We live in a world where quality will win hands down, over quantity. I think that number of connections is not a true reflection of your network. It’s the quality of relationships that matter. I have always been a firm believer in building and nurturing long-term relationships, both personal and professional. The ground rules of any long-term relationship is that it is always two ways and can never be one sided. At times, we humans do get a little selfish and are always looking to fulfill our own short-term agenda. I’m sure it sounds familiar to most of us and it is perfectly natural since we are human beings and we not only need to survive but also excel in whatever we do, especially if we are running a startup! The big question then is how does one come out of this short-term transactional-based relationships, wherein you scratch someone’s back and they scratch yours in return to building and nurturing a long-term relationship based on trust and no AGENDA?
Somewhere recounting my own experience at TiE Delhi, where I have been associated for over a decade as both a staff member and later as a volunteer/advisor. I try to make a personal effort to help fellow startup founders connect, learn, and interact with each other and in turn help them meet their business objectives, whether it was acquiring customers, getting advisors, access to funding, etc. While all of these activities consisted large part of my job, what I ended up doing was building up “Trust Capital” (i.e. acquiring the other person’s trust!)
Overall, trust capital has bigger dividends than just short-term exchange or transactions. Over the years and if you are willing to invest for the long term, I can assure that building “Trust Capital” on the right relationships will reap you heavy dividends in the future – it always does. My initial working years where I went above and beyond in my role at TiE helping several members, has paid huge dividends. People do business with people they know, like, and trust. So, the key lesson here is building your credibility and your trust capital – but the question is how do I do it?
Here are some tactical pointers that I have used and endorsed by some networking Gurus as well.
- Look around your life and you will be able to see so many people in your network (friends, family, colleagues, etc.) who you can help without much effort. I’m not talking charity here; I’m talking more in terms of building solid relationships which are not based on any short- or long-term agenda but purely on trust – “Trust Capital”.
- Move the focus from simply connecting with as many people as possible to connecting with few but relevant people. We need to shift our networking goals from mere numbers to quality connections. Relationships, communication, and trust are the fundamentals for this. Simply exchanging business cards doesn’t build communication or trust. I have witnessed time and again folks just go about collecting business cards as if it’s some sort of currency. By simply collecting or exchanging business cards effective networking cannot happen!
- In the end as master networker Ivan Misner puts it – networking is all about cultivating relationships; people often confuse direct selling with networking. They go to networking events and pounce on people. What they need to do is follow the VCP process: visibility, credibility, and profitability. For visibility, Ivan calls out his own example ‑ the Referral Institute (Misner’s training institute): “We help people work less, make more money.” It instantly gets people asking: How do you do that? Or another favorite is which courier company owner used “I deliver everything except bombs and babies” That’s a great USP then. Currently, in my role, I usually introduce myself ‑ “I can save you dollars on your IT infra spend while help you make $$ in additional revenue” ‑
- Listen before you talk – We all love to talk, especially about ourselves and what we have achieved. However, do we take a moment to understand what the other person is sharing, or is interested in? You cannot network effectively if you don’t listen.
- Contribute more than you take – The key to networking is to ensure you give value to people, your community, your stakeholders or simply folks who you are meeting for the first time. Networking is not about pushing your agenda and nurturing effective relationships.
- Invest in networking – this one was an eye opener for me too. How many of us actually block time to network? We are not talking about attending events but simple things like looking up at your phone list and calling your old connections.
- Following up after an event – Follow-up is critical and it should be simple. Do not pitch, but send a gentle reminder on what you do and the promise to keep in touch.
According to John G. Ango, an executive business coach: “The formula for success=your human capital (what you know) times your social capital (who you know) times your reputation (who trusts you).” When you build relationships, you are increasing your social capital and reputation. You may even build your human capital too because you can learn a lot through your relationships.