By Paul Jaques, Program Director, Conquer Accelerator
Networking . . . it strikes fear in the hearts of introverts. For extroverts, the word induces an eye roll. But—and let’s be honest here—networking is crucial to the success of startup companies, not to mention entrepreneurial ecosystems and community culture-building. Making it a priority to attend industry-related events with like-minded people produces substantial results.
For any startup team, one of the worst mistakes to make is to get too insular, or too wedded to an idea. Startups can get caught up in echo chambers. The antidote? You guessed it: Networking. Reaching out to others and talking about your company helps inform how your company or product fits into the market. Moreover, becoming great at networking helps open doors to new possibilities; sheds light on stymieing problems; (potentially) brings in new funding.
Here are some tips for your next networking foray:
Yes, Always Bring Business Cards
Business cards are old-school. Think of them as the #TBT of professionalism. People still ask for them and for good reason. In today’s digital landscape, a well-designed, branded business card offers an opportunity to break the ice while showing others you’re serious about your company. No, we don’t run home after an event, anymore, and stuff an evening’s worth of business cards into a trusty Rolodex (remember those?), but we do gather the information and connect with new contacts via LinkedIn and other social media channels.
“Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner . . .” In This Instance, “Baby” Is You
We often travel in packs to networking events. Our friends and colleagues are the folks we spend the most time with every day, week after week, so it’s natural they make us feel comfortable. But at networking events, avoid the temptation to stay in your cozy social bubble. Instead, take advantage of each event and push yourself. Get outside your comfort zone. Start talking to people you’ve never met.
Just as important: Work the room. Talk to an array of people. Remain open to feedback. By listening to diverse opinions, you will get a good feel for whether your idea is something that solves a problem for customers or fulfils a public good/desire. Avoid getting stuck in dark corners with networking vampires—folks who are prone to take advantage of your time and gnaw your ear for the duration of an event. If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s okay to be a gracious listener for a time, but then politely excuse yourself and quickly move on to another individual or group.
No, My Friend, You Didn’t Catch the Biggest Fish
We all know this kind of person: The conversation is going smoothly, everyone’s jovial, and then comes along that one. The one who knows everything. No matter the topic, these individuals have seen it all. They’ve done better, been better . . . better, more, more, better, best. They’ve always caught a bigger fish. Word to the wise: Don’t be that person. It’s ok to bring up and share relevant stories, but be self-aware enough not to come across as a know-it-all, or even worse a one-upper. Being humble goes a long way.
The Old Adage Is True: “To Assume Makes an A$$ Out of You and Me”
We live in a diverse world. This feels obvious, right? In your networking, you will invariably run into people who don’t fit into your preconceived notions. Maybe you bump into someone who’s dressed down, or who comes across as “different” or “eccentric.” Never make assumptions and never be dismissive. The Golden Rule reigns supreme, as you don’t know who somebody knows or to what groups someone is connected.
*Special Note: Be careful. Always be aware of your surroundings: Talking trash about people is an unforgivable offense. Nothing is more unprofessional or deleterious to relationships than running your mouth. When you are networking, you represent your own personal brand, as well as your company’s brand. Relationships and professionalism are based on integrity and trust. So, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
The Follow-Up Creeper
It’s ok to follow-up with someone right away on LinkedIn, or to send a quick e-mail to tell them how great it was to meet them. Heck, I encourage it. But be aware of the difference between being persistent and being overbearing.
In today’s professional realm, we all have different schedules. Some of us move at a breakneck pace; others are more deliberate. Give new connections time to loop back with you. Often I give my new contacts three days to respond to an electronic ping. If you’re someone with little patience, it may be time to pick up a new habit and start sending handwritten thank you notes to your newly found connections.
No matter your approach, be sure to value professionalism and follow up when and if you say you’re going to.
This list could go on and on, but this is a great starting point, helping you along the way with your next networking event. Good luck!
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