You have probably come across the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know”. In the dynamic world of startups, who you know is just as important as what you know and what you deliver. A great product or service is often only a part of the formula for a successful startup.
Strategic connections and effective networking can be the catalysts that propel your startup into a phase of exponential growth. Networking and forming strategic connections will expose both you, and your company, to things that you otherwise may not have had the opportunity to be exposed to.
In this article, we’ll explore the art of networking, looking at how building meaningful connections can contribute to the growth and success of your startup. If you don’t know where to start, start here.
In any business, time is money. In essence, purposeful networking means that you are doing more than just exchanging contact details or attending events. It’s about engaging with people purposefully and cultivating relationships that serve the, often mutually beneficial, purpose of driving your business forward.
The key to purposeful networking is to be prepared. As a first step, define the goals you have for your business (or even for yourself). Know who you want to meet, why you want to meet them and what you hope to get out of the relationship.
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It is also important to know what, if anything, you can give to the relationship. Whether it’s securing funding, acquiring customers, or forming strategic alliances, having a clear vision will guide your networking efforts and ensure that no valuable time is wasted.
Identifying Key Players
Understanding your target audience is fundamental to successful networking. Identify the individuals or groups that can significantly impact your startup’s trajectory to help you achieve your goals for the relationship, and for the business. This could include potential investors, influencers of your target market or industry, prospective clients, or partners.
Create a networking strategy that will allow you to connect with those who align with your startup’s ambitions and vision, and those who can help you reach the goals that you have for the company.
An Active Online Presence
A strong online presence is essential for any startup, and the options are endless. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter (now called X), online communities, and blogs are plenty. These platforms are ideal for connecting with like-minded individuals or the key players that you have identified. You can also find forums specific to your industry which provide opportunities to showcase your startup’s offering, unique selling proposition and plans for the future. Make use of these platforms to actively engage with your audience, share valuable content, and as a gateway to connect with industry leaders and potential partners.
Face-to-Face: Events and Conferences
The value of face-to-face introductions and communication remains high, even in a largely digital world. Events and conferences are great not only for meeting key individuals, but also for understanding who the important players in the industry are. In preparation for these events, ensure you have a concise and compelling sales pitch to communicate to your audience (no matter whether you are dealing with an audience of one or many).
Joining local and online networking groups can be hugely beneficial to a startup founder. Being part of a supportive ecosystem, having the opportunity to learn from the mistakes and insights of others, and to be able to establish connections with other entrepreneurs is invaluable. By actively participating in discussions, showcasing your expertise, and contributing to the collective knowledge of the group, you have the opportunity to sell both yourself and your business.
When you are networking, authenticity is key. Say what you mean and, do what you say you will do. Being warm, genuine and authentic will help you foster long term relationships and connections. You never know what is around the corner, and who you may need in the future. Transactional connections will likely only work once but, by creating long standing, mutually beneficial relationships, you will likely have a lifelong supporter. People are also more likely to support or help you if they sense that you are genuine. So, share your passion for your business, listen actively to and take an interest in others, and nurture connections that go beyond business transactions.
Follow up, follow up, follow up
Following up is absolutely essential in the networking environment. Follow up promptly after connecting with people, ensure it is personalized and relevant to the conversation you had with them and don’t forget to express your gratitude for their time and effort. It is also a good idea to recap the key points of your discussion and to suggest a time for a follow up meeting or chat. This will not only reinforce your interest, but it will also keep the ball rolling in terms of next steps.
Knowledge is power
The startup world is dynamic and ever changing. Keeping up with trends, news and the endeavors of your connections and competitors will allow you to engage in meaningful communication and it will also inform your company goals. Being knowledgeable positions you as an authority in your industry and makes you a valuable connection for others to have. This also applies to getting to know other people in your industry, offering to make an introduction for someone will give you some good will and encourage them to do the same for you.
To build a strong network, you’ll have to be patient and resilient. The value of some connections may only materialize further down the road and some may not be interested in connecting with you at all. Be persistent and get an understanding of what value a connection may yield at a later stage. Try to be understanding when you have a failed attempt to connect and don’t let it stop you from trying again or with others.
In a startup, having someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience to guide you is invaluable. Be careful not to discount the value of having a mentor (or mentors) in your network. They may have previously navigated challenges you are currently facing or may have dealt with something similar. Involving them in your decisions, successes and failures will give you the opportunity to handle each one a little better.
In conclusion, networking really is an art form that requires creativity, resilience, practice, and patience. You can get the most out of it by being purposeful, authentic, and reciprocal in your networking process. It is an ongoing commitment that requires you to put time and effort into making, keeping, and engaging with connections. However, you will find that the rewards you reap are worth the energy you expend. So, embrace it, work at it and watch your startup go from zero to hero with the support of others.