(First published in The Huffington Post)
“It’s all about who you know.”
We’ve all heard that cliché, Hollywood phrase more times than we can count. Well, it’s true… it is about who you know. But that’s only half of it. It’s more about who you know and have a strong relationship with. If you are a start-up, networking is one of the most cost-effective, high-return marketing tools you can use…that is, if you are doing it right.
Networking Is About Building Long-Term Relationships
Entrepreneurs have to take so much rejection from the industry — so of course you have to pump yourself up to feel and act more confident in this fast-paced business world. Unfortunately, this can translate into an air of extreme desperation (ie. making you look like a sleazy used car salesman). Too many first-timers go into every social situation trying to “make connections” without actually connecting with anyone. No one likes to feel like you’re only talking to them to “get” something. It will not give you the result you want. Not now, not ever.
Go to as many worthy networking events as you can. But go in to really listen to the people you talk to. Don’t listen to talk — listen to UNDERSTAND. Show genuine interest. Look them in the eyes — instead of watching out for the next person you might want to talk to. It’s not about how many connections you make. It’s about making quality relationships and those take time. When you initiate a relationship, your first focus should be on how you can be an asset to THEM; not the other way around. So don’t ask for any favors right away — it’s premature. Build and nurture those relationships first and in time, you’ll have a strong network with which to draw on.
We’ve all had those conversations with a fellow entrepreneur friend. You ask, “How are you?” and they go on to list their work resume. YAWN. Though your body of work is totally awesome, I’m pretty sure there’s more to your life than increasing sales by six percent. What else are you doing? Are you taking up CrossFit? Learning about aquatic birds? Creating your own tea blend? Keeping up with politics? Having a life outside of the industry will not only further you as a well-informed business person, it also makes you more versatile and interesting in a networking situation. With a well-rounded life, you are able to keep up with conversations and have meaningful opinions — making you much more interesting and memorable.
Being “Cut-Throat” Never Helped Anyone
“Every man for himself” is a silly way to run a business. So many entrepreneurial newbies hoard their resources because they don’t want their friends to become “competition.” By operating this way, you not being a good friend AND are shooting yourself in the foot as a business person. Every individual in your network brings their own network with them — so don’t discount someone just because of their title. And whatever you do, ALWAYS share your contacts. You’ll find yourself in a power position by connecting others. If you know two people who might benefit from each other’s skills and experiences, introduce them! Since you are the commonality between them, they will inevitably get together and talk about how great you are and how nice it was for you to connect them. This grows your reputation as a connected, likable person… and let’s face it, EVERYONE wants to work with people that they like.
You probably started your business because you were passionate about your product. You wanted nothing more than to communicate how great said product is and how it will change people’s lives for the better. Communication is having a conversation, not giving a hard sell. Never forget that.