Networking. You’ve heard it before, and we'll say it again: it is vastly important. We’re told that it's also essential for finding a job, building a name, and staying connected. But a lot of the time, it's hard to know where to start.
This can be especially tricky with startups. There is no traditional school in which to build your core network, businesses are changing all the time, and the climate can be completely different from traditional fields. So naturally, making a connection is slightly different than the traditional professional world. But fear not — it’s not as terrible as it seems. How do you find peers in an ever-changing realm?
Here are nine simple ways to kickstart your business networking to the next level.
Of course, before you’re able to start, you’ll have to find out who, where, when, and why. Read about the industry you are hoping to join, research companies’ backgrounds, and find the events you want to attend. Seek out founders you admire, and others who have been in your position before. It’ll help build your path.
Okay, this one’s obvious, but we had to mention it. Events like Startup Spectacular 2016 are a great place to be. If you're interested in a certain aspect like tech, seek out a niche event to meet people in your field. That way, you’ll be exposed to founders, employees, and entrepreneurs in startups just like you. Everyone’s there for similar reasons, willing and eager to talk. It’ll give you ideas about your next steps, and maybe even ideas about where you want your career to go. This is also a great way to practice those effective communication skills. Once you've laid this foundation, you need to take the next step.
We’ve all heard of Meetup.com, an online platform for finding like-minded people for events. There are all kinds of groups on Meetup, including startup groups. They range from the more general, to the very specific. Want to find other women who code PHP, or people who specialize in Business Intelligence? No problem! Joining a Meetup can put you in touch with others like you and alert you to other useful events. I know some people who go to weekly breakfast meetings to keep the momentum going. Great idea!
Yes, this might be another obvious one — but don’t discount LinkedIn and Twitter. Social media can really help you connect with people in tech-savvy fields. And don’t forget to scope out relevant conversations or chats on these social media platforms. A discussion in a LinkedIn group, for example, may help you identify key connections.
Putting yourself out there, even on social media platforms like YouTube, can create valuable connections down the line.
If you're looking for a new career or hoping to learn more about a certain company, volunteering your time can be a great way to break into the industry. While there may not be many formal opportunities for volunteers at small companies, some places would be ecstatic to enlist your help if you have the ability to do so. Volunteer to work the front desk at a company, or the registration desk at an event. Offer your help with whatever might be needed. You’ll meet tons of people in your field, and maybe even land a job where you lent a hand.
Coworking spaces are on the rise. If your job affords you the flexibility to work from home (or if you're a solopreneur), opt for coworking at least once a week. Not only will you share a space with other freelancers and entrepreneurs, but the casual atmosphere will allow you to meet people just like yourself. This is an opportunity to make connections naturally, with little pressure.
While face-to-face meetings allow a person to grow their list of acquaintances, you need a way to get those meetings in the first place! And the way to reach out to people is quite simple. Tracy DiNunzio, the founder and CEO of Tradesy.com, suggests her method: “The World’s Best Approach to Networking Without Even Having to Put on Pants.” After identifying someone who might be helpful to talk to, send them an e-mail with:
An expression of appreciation for their work
An explanation of why their feedback would be valuable to you
An acknowledgment of how busy they must be
An offer to meet for food (or coffee)
Some people may not answer you, but you are bound to get some responses. Most people are more than willing to “pay it forward” and give others their advice, because someone once did that for them. Schedule meetings or phone calls, and prep worthwhile questions to ask. Your meetings are bound to lead to other introductions, and voila — you've begun to master business networking.
One of the most fear-inducing things is getting out of your comfort zone and going to events you don't feel like attending. I know I didn’t feel like attending my first event alone, and sometimes I simply don’t feel like being social and meeting someone new for coffee. But it's important to push through that feeling. While you don’t have to say yes to everything, adopt a general positive vibe. Say yes to that Meetup dinner for like-minded people. Say yes to the offer to check out that new office. Say yes. You never know where it may lead!
Doing all of the above is great, but if you don’t keep in touch with your connections, your hard work won’t be sustained. Follow up with people, but not too much — just a quick note to remind them you’re here.
There are so many creative and different ways to build relationships through business networking, especially in the rapidly changing startup world. So get to work and build those connections!
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