Networking is one of the first steps you take when becoming an entrepreneur. Every business needs contacts and connections that can help open doors for collaborations, partnerships, and customer engagement. Networking is important for career advancement and business development. For startup entrepreneurs, networking can build your confidence and help you learn from more experienced entrepreneurs’ challenges. A recent study showed 85 percent of people preferred in-person business conferences, because they we able to build stronger, more meaningful business relationships. The next six tips can help you step up your networking abilities and improve your business connections.
- Do background research on networking attendees
Before heading out to a networking conference, alumni association meeting, or workshop learn more about the speakers and other attendees. Check out their LinkedIn profile to find out about their credentials and background. You can also look at their business websites and Twitter or Facebook accounts. Already knowing information about the attendees will help you choose who to invest more time with and allow you to keep the conversations flowing smoothly. It can also help you match names with faces, so it’s easier to find them in a crowd. Remember that if you are looking at their profile, they are probably finding yours as well, so make sure it is updated with the most recent information.
- Be genuine and ditch the sale pitch
Networking allows you to get the conversation started with other entrepreneurs, so keep the exchange fun and informal. You do not want to give the hard sell after just meeting the person. You are not on an episode of Shark Tank. Leave a lasting impression by talking about your passion and if someone does ask about your product or service, use a simple description of your company or a recent accomplishment. The goal of networking should be focused on developing long-lasting relationships that you can leverage in the future.
- Ask open-ended questions to continue the conversation
People in your conversation want to be engaged and interested. You can not just ask yes or no questions, because the conversation will lull and attendees will want to find other groups to join. Open-ended questions help build and maintain rapport. Some open-ended questions are: what do you like best about what you do, what do you see as coming trends in this business, and what advice would you give someone just starting out in this business? If you are nervous, ask about their company or what their role is and let the other person do the talking. People enjoy sharing their story.
- Listen, Listen, Listen
While you are asking those open-ended questions, stay attentive and listen. Listening will help you learn about other entrepreneurs’ challenges and get to know them better. Pay attention to what they say, what they need and what they do best. If you ask a good follow-up question based on the information you just heard, you are going to stand out. This can lead to more productive and long-lasting professional relationships. Listening is often an overlooked quality to have, but it is a very useful skill to have when networking. Great networkers listen more and talk less.
- Be valuable to someone and you’ll get value in return
Entrepreneurs like to build business relationships with people who they see as valuable. Build a reputation as someone who is talented, insightful, valuable and people will want to meet and stay in touch with you more. Business transactions are mutually beneficial, so helping someone will put them in a better position to help you in the future.
If you had a great conversation with someone, ask them the best way to stay in touch. Some people prefer phone or email while others prefer social media sites. At a minimum, it is important to establish contact within a 48-hour time window to show you are interested and be sure reference something you discussed so they can remember you. Be personable and focus on how you can help them. Build a reputation as someone who delivers on their promises and follow-up with people who promised to do something for you. Don’t wait around to talk to them again or they might not remember who you are.
Networking can help you establish a group of individuals that you can use to bounce ideas off, building business relationships with and create a successful business. If you use these simple tips as described, you can improve your networking interactions in no time. Be active in going to networking events and conferences, so you can continue to build relationships that will be beneficial to you in the future. Listen to what other entrepreneurs have to say and learn from their challenges and experiences. Always remember to follow-up with people and keep that connection available.