Jobseekers are often told that it’s not what you know, but who you know. A similar axiom might apply for startups. Having immense industry knowledge and niche expertise is important—but ultimately, it’s having connections that can spell the difference between boom and bust.
Actually making connections, though, takes a certain skillset—and it’s a skillset that many entrepreneurs frankly don’t have. You make connections by networking, but networking isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. You’ve really got to know what you’re doing if you want your networking efforts to be effective.
Networking as an Early-Stage Startup Founder
A few tips for entrepreneurs looking to step up their networking game:
- First, make sure you know what you want. Are you looking for investors? For strategic partnerships? Or just for some names to throw into your contact list for future reference? Having a goal in mind will ensure that you’re actually using your networking time effectively.
- Go to events. This can’t be stressed enough. Yes, you can network online, and yes, social platforms like LinkedIn can be invaluable tools—yet even in today’s all-digital-all-the-time world, a lot of effective networking still happens offline. Go to seminars and conferences when they’re in town—and if conferences don’t come to your town, then do more traveling.
- When you’re at conferences or networking events, don’t think about it in terms of business arrangements. A lot of professionals psyche themselves out, making themselves anxious or uncomfortable by thinking about the daunting nature of “networking.” So, just don’t think about it that way. Shift your mindset. Consider it an opportunity to get to know people who also want to get to know you. Ask questions and respond to questions honestly and openly. Think of it as conversation and relationship-building, not just a professional obligation.
- Above all, listen when people talk. Networking is most effective when you forge actual relationships—and relationships work both ways. If you’re just thinking about what’s in it for me, then you won’t really be establishing meaningful personal or professional dynamics.
As an entrepreneur, you won’t succeed on your own. Sooner or later, you’re going to need to connect with people—and that means going out of your way to form strategic—but real!—relationships.
Dr. Rick Goodman CSP is a thought leader in the world of leadership and is known as one of the most sought after team building experts in the United States and internationally.
He is famous for helping organizations, corporations, and individuals with systems and strategies that produce increased profits and productivity without having the challenges of micro managing the process. Some of Dr. Rick’s clients include AT&T, Boeing, Cavium Networks, Heineken, IBM, and Hewlett Packard.