Young entrepreneurs often have challenges when trying to build a network. Older people whose mentorship, investment and connections they need oftentimes don’t take them seriously because they’re young. But even the most accomplished entrepreneurs today started somewhere, some at very young ages. One way they managed to achieve pro status was through networking. Knowing the right people is one of the keys to success both personally and in business. When you network, you’re able to talk with people with experience in your industry. They can give advice, other valuable connections and help you grow your business to a level you may not reach on your own. A lot of people often overlook networking, even though it helps build a foundation for successful entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, many young entrepreneurs and students have a difficult time indulging in conversations with other individuals and building out these intangible assets. These tips will help you when networking.
- Start with your existing circles: Start to build a network from the connections you already have. Use the connections from your university, neighbourhood and community. Find those in your circles who are interested in entrepreneurship and meet with them. You can learn a lot about your industry from students, fresh graduates and classes you attend. See every contact you make as another networking opportunity. Find out as much as you can from them, know who and what they know and use it to form more connections and grow yourself.
- Plan and prepare: Large conferences are the most popular networking venues. While the networking here is mostly spontaneous, it’s best to have a few networking goals in mind. Know who you’d like to meet, where you could meet them and what you would like to get out of the meetings. When you meet people at conferences and events, the questions asked will be similar in nature and having an elevator pitch handy will always work in your favour. Have a short, to-the-point description of who you are and what you do and your reasons for attending the conference. Also ask the same from others.
- Approach: When at events, it’s easy to chicken out of talking to influential attendees because of fear of embarrassing yourself, but the cliche “you miss a hundred percent of the chances you don’t take” is a cliche for a reason. Make sure you approach people, even at the risk of stumbling over your words and sounding unintelligible. Even when someone appears unapproachable, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself because appearances could be deceiving. Someone who appears lukewarm might be engaging once a conversation is started.
- Be approachable: You might be sending out signals that you don’t want to socialize without even realizing it. This is common with introverts, but can be corrected with some practice. Make sure you’re not avoiding eye contact with people, especially those you would like to get to know. Try to position yourself near people whose acquaintance you would like to make, all the while waiting for an opportunity to introduce yourself. Don’t appear too immersed in your phone, leave Instagram and Twitter till after the event. Don’t forget to smile and be yourself, even though you’re feeling nervous. There are others who are just as nervous but are doing a good job of hiding their nerves. Smiling will not only attract people towards you, but it also shows that you are a humble. You’re there to network, so do that.
- Listen before speaking: The people who network best are those who can listen well. Even though our natural inclination is to talk, try to ask questions that would make the person you’re talking to open up to you. The more you know about someone, the easier it will be to make the most out of his acquaintance. Asking questions that will require the other person to talk about himself also makes you appear interested in the person himself and not just what you can get out of him. Some people suggest the trick of relating with the person and not just the title. Do your homework and research their interests, experience, and history so you have some background to go off of.
- Follow up: A single meeting – no matter how memorable, cannot form a relationship. Meeting people is the easy part, keeping in touch and forming a professional relationship with them is not so easy. Reaching out once a month with a call or meaningful text will show a genuine interest in the person. This persistence is not easy, but will eventually pay when you make a request. Part of the reason social media is so popular is that it makes it so easy maintain relationships even across long distances and between people with very busy lives. Business cards are the most popular means of exchanging contacts at events. Use these to connect with an email or via social media after a couple of days when conversations are still fresh in your minds.