Networking is an essential ability for any successful entrepreneur to possess. Being able to develop a strong network of supporters, mentors, benefactors, customers, vendors and other interesting and engaging people is the hallmark of success. There is even a cliche about networking: your network is your net worth. But there are many misconceptions about what makes for good networking. In this and future entrepreneurship blogs, we’ll cover ways to become a better networker and, in turn, a more successful entrepreneur.
Networking Is Not Sales
Let’s get this out of the way: networking is not about selling. If all you do when you meet people is try to sell them your stuff, you’ve missed the entire point. Networking is about building relationships. In fact, really effective networkers strive to bring value to the people in their network, as opposed to taking from it. You always want to be thinking about what you can do for the people in your network.
Networking Events Aren’t Really Networking
Tons of events try to attract new or aspiring business owners with promises of a “networking event”. Bring business cards, they say. The problem is that the entire thing is forced. Yes, it’s always great to meet new people. Any business networking event offers the potential for new customers. But, you’re not looking for just customers, you’re looking to build a network.
What are the real opportunities for networking? You want to be in situations where you’re sharing and building common interests with the type of people you want around you. Part of the reason golf is so popular with business people is that it gives them the opportunity to spend time together doing something fun. While playing, they can talk about a variety of topics, including what’s happening in the fields they operate in.
If you want a career in fashion, you should be hanging out at fashion shows, or find charity events supported by your favorite designers. Want to connect with the top business leaders in your area? Find the country club that attracts the best of the best and become a member. Find the places and activities that attract people who you want to surround yourself with and become a part of them.
It’s The Second Meeting That Matters
The first time you meet any new person, it’s a bit awkward. Often it’s just a quick hello, or a rushed handshake. Maybe you’re not sure how to pronounce their name. You try to figure out a way to break into a conversation to introduce yourself without being rude. But, you put in the effort, make that initial connection, and hopefully have a few minutes for an introductory chat.
When you meet a second time, there is now some familiarity. You know each other’s names, maybe the names of family members. There’s a shared experience from the first time you met. You have context from that first conversation that you can now reference with each other.
Don’t try to push or ask too much from an initial encounter. Everything doesn’t always need to happen all at once. If, after that first meeting, you know each other’s names, and have something to build on the next time you cross paths, consider it a success.
In future blogs in this series, we’ll touch on how you should prepare for networking opportunities, as well as what to do afterwards. We’ll also discuss the relationship between networking in person (IRL) versus online or by social media. Hopefully, these tips will make you a more active and confident networker, and you’ll see the rewards of building an amazingly diverse and interesting network.