Mastering The Art of Networking

Simply put, networking is an art of building relationships. It can be with anybody for any purpose. For an early stage startup, you as an entrepreneur would need to network with a lot of people like investors, mentors and the market. But, you also need to work on your product/service. In such times, networking will seem unnecessary. Yet, as you will see, networking is essential for your startup to succeed. Again, with so many options available, it can be difficult to select the best method of networking.

In this article, learn why networking is important, where to network and how to network. Eventually, you will learn how to master the valuable art of networking.

Why networking is important?

In a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit back in 2016, networking is vital for 78% of startups to succeed. So if you are working on a startup, networking is not a good-to-have activity, but a must. Not only networking will help you in your professional life, but you can build relationships that can last lifetime.

Here are some reasons as to why you should consider networking:

  • You can find your mentor

Wish there were someone who has passed all the difficulties of building a startup you are having? A mentor is the perfect person for you. Your mentor can give you essential advice on how to move on with your startup. He/she can also help you find potential investors and customers.

Networking is the key to finding your mentor. The only way someone will guide you to success is if you reach him/her. By being an effective networker, you can find your guru. Bill Gates met Warren Buffett in a family gathering. After that meeting Buffet became Gates mentor, the former giving the latter useful advice on prioritization and time management.

  • You can meet potential investors

Funding is important for your startup. According to a poll, 29% of startups fail for insufficient funding. You need funding to develop your product/service, sell it to customers and maintain operations.

Investors are busy people. They come upon a lot of potential startup pitches. The only way you can attract their attention is by making your company look exceptional. And only skillful networking can help you with that.

  • You can build up your team

In this modern world, doing stuffs by yourself is impossible. Startups are not exception. They are basically a team of few people who have this bold vision of changing the world. The only way to succeed is for all the members of the team to work cohesively with each other and with the same goal.

Finding people with the same vision as you is difficult. Here is where networking saves the day. By reaching out to potential people and acquainting with similar minded people, you can gather people to buy your idea and work with you.

  • You can find customers

There are thousands and thousands of businesses around the globe, all trying to capture the attention of customers. And cliche advertisements won’t help you attract customers. What you need is networking- building valuable relationships with your customers. You expose your business to potential customers through networking which in turn can influence him/her and others to buy your product/service.

  • You can connect with fellow startups

Who else can empathize with you more than someone going through the same phase you are going? Only another startup founder can. He/she is probably facing the same problems as you. Sharing problems with each other, you can solve their problems and yours as well. Moreover, they can provide you with valuable advice as well.

Where to network?

In a digital world where we are ever connected, networking is literally in the tip of your fingers. However, online networking is not enough. To master the art of networking, you need to network both online and offline. Here are some places where you can start networking.

  • LinkedIn: A request from a stranger on Facebook is creepy. You don’t want to appear as a stalker to someone you want help from. That’s where LinkedIn comes. As it is more professional, the person whom you want to network with will be able to trust you more than he/she can do it on Facebook.

However, it can also be creepy to accept a request from LinkedIn as well. So at first, you must build up your profile. That way you will let people know who you are. Second, you just can’t send a connection request. That is weird as well.

When you send a request for connection to someone on LinkedIn, you also have the option to send a note. Use that well. Tell that person why do you want to connect with him/her. It can be for asking for advice or anything. But do mention it.

Another thing is that mere getting accepted to a connection doesn’t mean you have networked well. You must follow up. Try to set up a face-to-face meeting. This will develop trust.

  • Networking events: Networking events offer a wide range of opportunities to network. Not only can you meet experts but also you can meet peers and sometimes co-founders. UBER co-founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp met at a tech conference in Paris. From there the idea of the ride sharing app grew. A lot of networking activities take place now a days. Just search on Facebook and you will find plenty. There is also a separate filter for networking events in Facebook Events. So searching for networking events has never been easier.

Most networking events consist of experts delivering speeches. Some may include group activities as well. However, passive participation won’t guarantee success. You must actively search for peers with interest similar to yours. Connect with them and follow up soon. The same thing goes when connecting with the experts. Go to them, talk a bit about yourself and your business, hand them your business card and request for a follow up.

  • Co-working spaces: Co-working spaces allow you to work on rented space. There will be other entrepreneurs as well who will be working on that space. Thus, co-working spaces give you ample scope to network. You can get help from fellow entrepreneurs and give help as well. You can also build good relationships.

There are a lot of co-working spaces out there. YY Goshti provides co-working spaces for startups with flexible timings and affordable packages. You can try out other coworking spaces including Inhouse, hubdhaka, Bonik Coworking SpaceMoar, Office Suites, YY Goshti Space and HIVE.

  • Trade associations: Trade associations help you bond with people engaged in your trade. Hence, you can meet people who have experience plus people who are just starting up just like you. So a trade association can be a vital source of networking.

Trade associations often hold gatherings and other events frequently or at certain intervals. Try to participate in these events. Just like networking events, you must be an active networker. Constantly seek out people whom you think who can help you. Approach them, tell them about your business, give them your business card and follow up.

  • Facebook groups: Facebook groups allow you to access a community of similar minded people. There are a lot of Facebook groups now a days catering to specific needs. These groups can provide you with advice, help you find raw materials and even help you to find team members.

Facebook groups made for start-ups in Bangladesh include Desperately Seeking Entrepreneurs, Desperately Seeking -Dhaka (DSD) and Ashen Babosha Kori.

Tips for networking:

Networking can be your make or break situation. You can either make a valuable connection or you can screw right up. Networking through Facebook groups and coworking spaces can be easier as it is often informal. However, when networking for mentors or investors, you really need to level up your skill. To master the art of networking, here are some tips that you should follow:

  • Plan

Before heading out to give a connection request to someone on LinkedIn or going to a networking event or any other cases, PLAN. Is the person right to ask? Is this the event I should be going? As an entrepreneur, it might be hard to maintain balance between your work and networking. So plan carefully on whether you should network with that person or not. Before giving a connection request, think on what to write as an introductory note. Before deciding to go to an event, think if you should go or not. Plan on what you wish to achieve. Or if you want to coldmail, plan on how to craft your mail to attract the person.

  • Know about the person

It is very important to know about the person you wish to connect with. Learn about the person, his/her work history, achievements and experience. Try to know about his/her interest and if there is any that matches with you. It will help you start off conversation in a friendly manner. Try to find out if both of you have a mutual connection. That can help you get acquainted with the person easily. Try to see if you can help him/her in any way. For example: Before interviewing Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey read a lot of her works before. Oprah was fascinated by Angelou and the latter became Oprah’s mentor afterwards.

  • Give before you take

According to master networker Heidi Rozen, who has been an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and an executive at Apple, “Successful Networkers are givers.” Don’t think of networking as just business transactions- but opportunities for developing human relationships. So try to offer something of value to the person you wish to network before asking something in return. If after learning about the person, you find something he/she needs that you can provide- do it. That person will be glad to reciprocate with similar actions.

  • Be specific

Make the person know what you want properly. Also make the person know you properly as well. He/she won’t help someone whom he/she doesn’t know anything about. Introduce yourself well, describe about your business and what it does. At times, you can provide work portfolios to the person so he/she can understand your business well. Your queries and requests must be unambiguous too. So he/she can properly help you out.

  • Follow up

After the meeting is over, follow up. Most of the “How to Networking” articles you come online will tell you to meet at a coffee place or have a lunch or something. That is great but for someone who is constantly being asked for coffee or lunch, it might be impossible to maintain your request.

Instead of the usual coffee dates, you can write an email to that person after a few days. Thank him/her for the time given and you can share articles he/she might find useful. You can also mention further questions at this stage as well. You can also ask for a second meetup if that person comes to town again.

  • Connect both online and offline

Though Facebook and LinkedIn may ease the networking process for us all, they aren’t enough. Similarly networking events are a one time affairs and you need to connect frequently. Thus, you need both online and offline media. Don’t think one is the substitute for another. In fact, both of them are complementary to each other. So use both of them wisely.

Networking is an art. An art that takes a lot of preparation and skills. You cannot succeed always but if you do, you will thank your networking skills for helping your startup to grow. So work carefully on your networking skills and do write to us if you have succeeded using any of the tips mentioned above. Happy networking!

Writer: Farhan Uddin Ahmed

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