If a movie was to be made on a purely entrepreneurial model alone – without chronicling the journey of a business maestro – it would probably be called ‘Networking 101’. After all, entrepreneurs live that movie reel every single day because it is arguably the be all and end all of the job.
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Reaching out to fellow entrepreneurs and potential investors to build a professional network may be the first thing they teach you at business school, but it takes several practical examples and a series of trials and errors before you actually understand the concept of networking actually, with all its highs and lows.
As an entrepreneur, you need to be prepared for all possible outcomes; this includes both being offered the apple (metaphorically speaking) and having it being taken away before the first bite. But as Alan Collins, author of Unwritten HR Rules, says, “Pulling a good network together takes effort, sincerity and time.”
Today, organisations and influential individuals are taking it upon themselves to organise conferences, dinners, and impromptu meets to help foster the networking process for the everyday entrepreneur. The intent such organisations and business leaders is to provide a platform for all entrepreneurs alike so they can form a professional bond which is mutually beneficial.
Most startup founders will tell you that the first trick to networking advantageously is to take it upon yourself to build ‘authentic professional networks’. And here’s how:
Despite claims stating otherwise, the entrepreneurship world largely rests of an equation of give and take. Professionals will only invest time, money, and interest in another’s craft if they can see in it a benefit for themselves. Thus, it’s important to pitch your product or service to others in the same field such that they become convinced that there’s something in it for them. But even before reaching the stage of pitching to the right people, it is important to curate a long-term relationship with them by helping with their own pitches. This could be through introducing them to the right people or putting forth a word in favour of their products as part of your own campaign, for example. Whatever be the intensity of the measure, you need to gain the trust of the fellow entrepreneur so that he or she will return the favour four-fold.
On the same note, it is also important to exercise a pre-planned time crunch for your initiative. It isn’t practical to jump with a game-plan on the first person who exercises an interest in your startup dream. You need to begin small – exchange business cards and take all their contact information – before weighing out the pros and cons of working together with another. Once you have performed the mandatory scouts and identified the people you wish to approach at any concerned event, that’s when you should go forth with a gleaming purpose in your eyes and a blueprint in your hands.
Don’t beat about the bush. Frankly, no one has the time for it. The first key to networking successfully is to make it clear from the very beginning that you aren’t here for the casual chit-chat or the free appetisers. You are here purely for the sake of forming connections which will help your company in any way. So while the social niceties are a requirement, be sure to speak more about your company and your service and less about what made you decide to move to the Silicon Valley of India, for example.
In any standard networking event, you will end up approaching and being approached by over a dozen other entrepreneurs who are there for the same reason as you. While some may stand out in your mind, some may not. You have to remember that it works both ways for the person approaching you as well. So if you don’t wake up the next day with an email or meeting request from these same people, don’t brush it off as an ego-clash. Send a follow-up mail to remind them of who you are and what your company is about along with a request to carry forth the conversation of the day(s) before. In most cases, you will receive a prompt reply with a time and date.
While the process has its ups and downs, and in many cases gets downright frustrating, the key lies in being patient and hopeful. As Jeremiah Owyang, a Senior Analyst at Forrester, puts it, “Relationships take time, getting to know folks requires patience, and people are generally cautious – if not fearful – of Johnny come lately that is asking, rather than giving.”