Why and How Entrepreneurs Should Network – Part II

“Grandpa, walk like you have someplace to go.”

This admonishment from my 5 year old granddaughter (courtesy of my son I am sure) is my reminder that we have to do things with a purpose. And networking is not some random act that results in us meeting a valuable contact; it is a “process.” In Part I of this blog, I provided some background on networking and why I thought it was so important for entrepreneurs. In this second part, I will hopefully provide some helpful techniques.

First, find the right place to go. While it is great to bump into someone at a social event who may allow you to “advance your cause,” I prefer to increase my odds by frequenting events that increase my chances of meeting the right people. We do business with early stage tech companies, so MeetUps, hackathons, FinTech and similar events are popular places for us to be. For more established owners, we frequent business groups, bank and other service providers’ events and small networking groups. With some research and purpose, you can increase your odds by being in the right place.

Next, as the Boy Scouts say, be prepared. In advance of going to a session, see if you can secure an attendance list and set an objective of meeting one or two key people on that list. If there is nobody on the list you want to meet but you are new to the process, go anyway. If the group is right, you will come to appreciate the practice. You should also be prepared for your “pitch.” If someone asks (and they will) why you are there or better yet, what can they do for you, have your short elevator pitch ready.

Third, learn how to break the ice. A simple “Hello, my name is…” works remarkably well. Weather, sports and family are also good topics but they should be of real interest to you. Today, most people are familiar with networking so they are prepared to respond. Ironically, while you might be there with a specific goal in mind, you should begin by asking why they are there and what you can do to help them. If you are genuine (this is the golden rule) the path to your goal may be longer but will be rewarding. I am fortunate to have relationships with a good number of contacts, so for most events, I leave with the task of connecting someone I just met with a contact. But that is fine; I do not mind that someone might remember me as the “person who helped them to connect.”

Finally, follow up. Make sure you under promise and over deliver. If you said you will try to get your new contact a meeting, call and arrange it and close the loop, even if you are not successful. My rule of thumb has always been to not attend a networking event if I don’t have some time set aside for follow up.

So in summary, networking is not just for sales people or professionals; it is a way of life today. Do it with purpose, stay genuine and use hints like the above and you will be surprised as to what can happen.

Why and How Entrepreneurs Should Network – Part I

“You can observe a lot by watching” – Yogi Berra

When I was gathering my thoughts for this blog, I happened to mention it to a good contact of mine at one of the accelerators who proceeded to hit me with a handful of very salient points that I had not even considered. So after reflecting, I decided to make this blog a “two parter” – this first part will provide some background on the process and make the simple case for why I think entrepreneurs should learn to network. Part two will provide some simple guidelines.

In my mind, there are two aspects to networking – the first (and more difficult) is assembling a list of meaningful relationship contacts. The second is to stay in contact and cultivate those relationships – aptly called “working the Rolodex.” My focus in these two blogs will be the first.

In the days of quill pens (and no social media) some of us thought that getting out and meeting people might be a good way to expand our businesses. When I first started to do what today is called networking, there was no process. So as Yogi said, I observed a lot by watching; I saw what worked and what did not. At first, I believed this was a skill you were born with like natural athletic ability because for some, striking up a meaningful conversation seemed so natural and for others it seemed awkward and painful. But observe I did, and I learned from others’ mistakes and successes. At one point, I thought I had found “the process” that I could use but soon realized that one size does not fit all. I came to the conclusion that while there were a few techniques (that sounds so clinical) that seemed to work, a few helpful reminders were the best I could do and I would have to play the rest by ear.

Today, I attend a good number of networking events from MeetUps, to accelerator events to general business venues where entrepreneurs of all types can be found. As you might imagine, since networking is a key part of earning my livelihood, this process has a real meaning for me. In fact, you might say I have become somewhat of a student of the process – and I am a student because I continue to learn. Each event has positives and negatives and some just end up being an enjoyable night out. All are learning experiences.

So let me just say why I think networking is so important. Simply stated, all the planning and positioning and methodologies we employ to either get a job, find financing or locate that key partner seem to get trumped by the old “I know a guy” phenomenon. Those seeking investment know this best – the universal advice for getting your deck before an investor group is to have a “warm introduction” to that group, also known as a network contact. So the second part of this blog will focus on how you light the fire. And make no doubt about it, your contacts are the fuel.