Now let’s move on to talk about an activity that’s absolutely central to your team’s commercial success: networking. Networking consists of exchanging information and establishing personal connections. People network in many different settings: on the telephone, in hallways, in company lunchrooms, at professional conferences, at trade shows, company meetings, classrooms, lounges, hallways, elevators, airplanes, trains, buses, hotel lobbies, and waiting rooms. Some networking is carefully planned and some just happens. Networking is friendly, low-key—and essential.
You network because it opens doors for you. When you know a lot of people, you can turn to them when you need help with anything and everything related to your venture: hiring new staff, marketing, supplies, getting funding. It’s nearly impossible to succeed in business without a good network.
Get out there
The only way to network is to get out there and talk to people. According to networking guru Joan Gillman, a lot of entrepreneurs “get very involved in their businesses and their ideas and don’t get out of their shop. They’re very busy doing what they do well, and I applaud them for that, but they need to get out into the community. Those community contacts through Rotary, through the Elks, through the Chamber of Commerce, through other non-profit organizations, are really important for success in business.”
You may be wondering, “Where do I start?” It’s OK if you don’t personally know any CEOs, lawyers, or business executives. Chances are someone close to you does, or perhaps someone close to someone close to you. “Every person has a network they can hook into,” says Gillman. “We’re all born with networks, a set of contacts.” She recommends first delving into your F & R (Friends and Relatives) network to connect with people who can help you.
Opportunities to network exist outside of friends and family as well. Your college or university keeps detailed alumni information. Feel free to get in touch with these invaluable contacts by writing letters and making telephone calls. Many alumni are more than happy to help out students of their alma mater. Also, seek out trade organizations and conventions that link people in your field of interest. Your competitors are likely to participate in these associations; by networking with them, you can gain priceless information.
Every time you meet a new person, you are essentially pitching yourself. If you are shy or intimidated by meeting strangers, ask an extraverted friend to help introduce you to others until you gain more confidence. The only way to overcome introversion is through practice. Exercise your networking skills by engaging strangers and starting simple conversations in ordinary places like the park or supermarket.
When you are ready to network for business do not underestimate what you have to offer as a new, ambitious entrepreneur. More experienced individuals may even take you under their wing. The closer you are to your mentor, the more that person will want to see you succeed. Your best asset is your freshness; by confidently and sincerely approaching people you will make contacts with ease.
As a budding entrepreneur, you’re also offering others the unique opportunity to share in your vision at the beginning. Everyone is interested in new and innovative ideas. Even if you’re reaching out to friends and family, talk about your vision with conviction and explain why it’s important. Buzz spreads quickly, and if the people you speak with aren’t interested in becoming involved in your business, perhaps they know people who would be.
Keep in touch
As you build up a network, says Gillman, be careful not to overextend yourself. Says Gillman, “You have to be selective. When I go to a meeting, I try to meet two people who are going to be influential and whom I want to stay in contact with. Not fifty, because you can’t manage fifty relationships.” Keep in touch with the contacts you make. Gillman keeps a calendar with birthdays on it. “My most important contacts and I go out for lunch about once a month, once every six weeks. We never leave that lunch without scheduling the next one.”
Use your network
Getting help from your network is as easy as making a phone call or writing a letter. All you have to do is ask in order to raise capital, discover opportunities, and connect with people that can help you with your business venture. But don’t forget that networking involves reciprocal relationships to which you are also expected to contribute. Do your part by lending a hand to others where you can—share your contacts, make yourself available for informal meetings or lunches, and always nurture your relationships. “You just never know where your contacts are going to take you,” says Gillman.
Mind your manners
Network to get what you want
Befriend the competition
Ask and ye shall receive