For some, the idea of approaching someone at an event to “network” is daunting and cringeworthy. But for fledgling entrepreneurs and early-stage startups, the truth is that making the right connections can play a key role in getting a business off the ground. Keep in mind though, that the extent in which networking can influence the growth of a company depends on a variety of factors, like the type of business, market, company stage and geography.
Whether for meeting potential investors, acquiring new clients, finding talent or exchanging ideas with fellow entrepreneurs, connecting with others can undoubtedly facilitate the growth of a business from a number of angles. For those who may be new to the realm of networking or feel queasy about putting yourself (and your business) out there, here are some points to consider when thinking about how to leverage your network to grow your startup.
Approach networking with an open mind
When thinking about networking, images of stiff, suited people exchanging business cards in order to get something from each other may come to mind. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. Having an open mindset without expecting too much from others is critical because the value of networking is not always apparent immediately.
Robin Wauters, founder and editor of Tech.eu, says the most valuable networking for him has been with people he didn’t expect anything from. “Only at a later stage did I realize that networking with them was of value,” he added.
Echoing similar sentiments about this approach is Lucie Montel, Head of Community at Factory, who said that building a network is more about expanding the pool of people you can reach out to later than swapping contacts in order to achieve a certain goal right away. “Perhaps you’ll connect with someone who is very valuable to you down the road. Or perhaps that person will introduce you to someone else who will be helpful,” she posited, “It’s hard to predict, so it’s really important to just get out there and start meeting people because you never know who you’re going to meet.”
Be confident and hustle
Here’s the thing, if you think and act like you’re not worth talking to at an event or conference, everyone else will probably pick up on these signals, too. Instead, Wauters said that entrepreneurs should be confident and just spread the word about their company. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find yourself talking to a high-caliber entrepreneur or investor.
“Part of building a startup is getting out there, showcasing it and making both you and your business look good – it’s just a reality. So don’t be afraid and hustle,” said Wauters matter-of-factly.
Believe it or not, networking isn’t only about you and your startup’s goals. It’s more about creating a dialogue between people and trying to understand each other’s needs. Wauters argued that listening attentively is a crucial aspect of networking. “If you’re genuinely interested in what drives other people, their interests and goals in life, it’s so much easier to start a conversation and make connections,” he explained. On this point, Montel added, “When you’re talking to someone, rather than thinking about whether or not it’s beneficial to have this conversation, consider how you can help them.”
Nonetheless, part of being a keen listener means spotting the signs that someone may not want to talk with you, whatever the reason may be. “When you see that there isn’t a connection with someone or you’re having a conversation that isn’t enjoyable, it’s completely fine to let it go,” said Montel.
Create tricks to remember people
Sometimes it happens that you introduce yourself to someone only to forget the person’s name moments later (it happens to the best of us too). So what can you do to combat this sequence of events?
For Montel, making notes about people on business cards helps her remember the people she’s just met at an event. “You have to teach yourself tricks to remember who’s who, because the little things you notice, like a common interest, can help with memory,” she said.
Tap into social media
Although face-to-face interaction is arguably irreplaceable, connecting with others through social media can be a beneficial way to broaden your network for a number of reasons. Firstly, during an event, sharing an insightful quote from a panel discussion or using a hashtag can help you garner visibility and build your reputation. Secondly, adding or following people that you’ve met at events on social networks is a practical way of remembering them.
Additionally, Montel is a big proponent of using social media to engage with others and maintain the relationship beyond the first meeting. “Tweeting someone you’ve met at an event occasionally can build a sense of goodwill over time so that the next time you meet in person the dynamic seems more personal and easy-going,” she added. “It’s a good way to keep the interaction going.”
Pay it forward
When Montel moved to Berlin three years ago, she had just left an agency job and was ready to get her feet wet in the startup scene. But she didn’t know anyone. Not someone who waits for things to happen, Montel started actively attending meetups, events and conferences in order to get to know like-minded individuals. As her network grew, so did her grasp on the startup scene in Berlin. Now, as Head of Community at Factory, she’s grateful for the mentors who offered a helping hand along the way and feels the need to pay it forward. “I’ve become the person that newbies in the scene now come to for help or for intros, which is nice,” Montel said with a smile.