“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.