Five Essential Steps for Early-Stage Startups to Ace their Networking Goals
“After spending a decade building a strong personal network across the US and UK, I moved back to India this year in January, and discovered that I had to start networking all over again.” Pearl Agarwal, Founder of Eximius Ventures, shares her experience of achieving her goals in a new geography by networking right.
“While knowledge, grit and passion are important, what makes it happen is access to a strong network,” she adds.
With the best of both online and offline channels at our disposal, finding the right network has never been easier. However, it has also paved the way for more competition. To make the most of networking, you now need to portray yourself as the person you want to be recognised as. This will enable you to build more valuable and lasting connections.
Below is a visual that we put together to help you organize your networking channels to ensure thorough utilisation of resources available to you.
You are constantly networking without even trying by interacting with like-minded people, learning from their experiences and sharing yours. However, it is paramount to start with an effective strategy that fits your needs. We have highlighted a few best practices throughout the article that can help you plan your networking journey.
Tools to Arm Yourself With Before You Begin
1) Build an Effective Networking Strategy
Define your goals. Are you looking for the right partner? Do you want to increase the market for your product or find mentors? Your answer will be unique to you and help you narrow down the people you want to connect with. Then, make a list of all the relevant channels that you can use to access the people you want to connect with and prioritise. Stay focused on the ones higher up on your list, but also be prepared to meet new people not originally on your list.
Maintain a spreadsheet of your strategy. Plan. Organise. Achieve.
2) Research the Right Way
More importantly, you are looking at people with beliefs, principles and stories.
Dig deeper. Read the articles they write, the posts they share, watch the interviews they give.
PR specialist Candy Behunin relies on such preliminary research to set herself apart while networking: “What I do is I make a list of all the events I’d like to go to, who’s managing those events and then I start reaching out to those people.”
While researching the people you want to connect with will help you have meaningful conversations, it is also important to tell them a bit about yourself before you meet them. A substantial part of having an impressionable online presence comes from the personal brand you build. This is your chance to become the right person to network with.
How to Build Your Personal Brand
There’s a plethora of people you would want to connect with but it takes two to tango when it comes to business relationships. Who are you? Are you a reliable and knowledgeable person to network with? What values would you be able to add?
The Answer: Create a Personal Brand
1) Emerge as a Thought Leader
To make your presence felt, you need to build one.
Diane Helbig is an advisor, author and speaker who simultaneously grows her audience through a LinkedIn blog and newsletter. She offers quality content that makes people seek her out when they want to read on that subject. Similarly, you can start with experiences, advice or anecdotes. Turn them into small blogs on Medium or your own website over time. If writing is not your stronghold, go for videos. But be consistent with your tone and your story.
2) Narrate Your Story Skilfully
Your story is the most unique part of your personal brand. It should be designed to make the purpose of the interaction clear. Know how to narrate it and translate it for your audience. If it’s a customer, it should be capable of moving them. If it’s an investor, infuse your hustle, data and future goals as well.
If you are looking for a starting point, Park Howell’s 10-step storytelling process lays out some core elements for building a compelling business story.
3) Giving Back
While developing a brand and a story that people can connect with is a good starting point, the most effective way to stay relevant is to be resourceful to your audience. Whether it is by sharing your knowledge, your connections or helping them build their personal story, it is important to give back to your community.
Use social media groups to engage with your industry and add value to group discussions. Try guest blogging to reach a newer audience, be open to invitations to be the speaker at webinars (even if they are small-scale to begin with) or host one yourself. Ask someone in your network for an informational interview.
Now that you know how to strategize and establish yourself as a resourceful entrepreneur, it’s time we decide where to reach people.
Where to Reach People
Should you attend more events or personal meetings? Is cold-emailing effective?
1) Events and Personal Meetings
97% of meeting attendees prefer small, face-to-face meetings for long-term business relationships. This also holds true for corporate events and clubs. More than 80% of event attendees prioritise networking.
Be more focused than the majority. Your body language, the way you speak, eye contact, and overall personality will contribute more to the impression you make than the words you speak. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry too much about which event, club and group you should or should not join. Hit and trial will allow you to be more selective later on.
2) Social Media and Cold-Emailing
39% of people prefer to socialise online than they do in person. Online communication with people you haven’t been able to meet in person is a stepping stone in your networking strategy.
- Share resources
- Engage in conversations
- Send event invitations
- Offer personal advice
These will ensure more people visit your profile.
Cold-emailing isn’t as bad as it sounds. While it is true that the success rate is slim, you need to remember that most people aren’t personalising their networking strategy.
What to Ask and How
After strategy, story and method, it’s time to move on to the raison d’être of networking. This is when you ask for advice, references, or second meetings. However, you should be judicious about when and how to ask.
1) Offer Before Asking
According to Networking Expert Paritosh Pathak, “Ensure that your networking is ‘Intentional’ and not circumstantial.” You’re going with a purpose and that must reflect in the conversation you have. Here’s how Pearl Agarwal does it:
“Based on my research, I make a few points on how mutual synergies can be explored. Then I offer to help by sharing my ideas and also ask for their suggestions on how I can be helpful.” This is a great example of bringing value to your conversation. Float some impressive contacts to add to your resourcefulness.
2) Avoid Sales Talk
Nobody — perhaps not even a salesperson — like sales talk. You are an entrepreneur who is looking to build a relationship on trust. Give them a reason to trust you.
You are different from your competitor. Make your conversations and your product reflect that. Offer your true personality and philosophy. Put the effort where it is due — on your story.
3) What to Ask
If you are sending a cold-email or connecting on social media, seek advice as a learner or request for a call.
After a networking or social event, request for a personal meeting. Exchange business cards (have a proper system to store the ones you receive) to reconnect soon.
At the end of a meaningful conversation, Pearl Agarwal suggests continuing the chain of networking. “I ask them to connect me to someone I can speak with to learn further about the topic. It has worked very well for me.”
After the Initial Meeting
According to Keith Farazzi, the youngest CMO in the then Fortune 500, “Intimacy and generosity are the two accelerants for relationships. You lead with generosity, follow with care.”
After a conversation (online or offline), wait for a few days and send a follow-up email. Think of this as continuing the conversation forward. While you may have had a great interaction, the foundation you thought you were building can easily fall apart if you don’t take steps to sustain it. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Ask for their business cards
- Build an emailing list
- Keep track of who you have and have not followed up with
There’s no standard template for this. Pick up points from the first conversation to connect again. See if they are interested in a second call or meeting, rather than expecting them to deliver right away.
2) Revisit Your Strategy
It is pertinent that you revisit your strategy to compare your achievements with the goals you had set. Your goals may not always match the result in the initial periods of networking, and that’s perfectly fine. The more you learn, the more you grow.
Networking has immense power to take your business to the next level. It cannot do without effort, attention and persistence. All of the five stages are critical if you want to ace your networking strategy and make your business thrive.
Be a go-getter and strive to build your empire. Above all, do not settle until you meet your goals.
Written by Anureet Kaur
Eximius Ventures is a micro venture capital fund investing in young and dynamic Indian Entrepreneurs with a precedence for female founders. You can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.