Everyone needs a network of people they can count on, in both in their personal lives, and in business. For entrepreneurs especially, these support networks can make the difference between feeling like you’re out there on your own, to being deeply connected to other entrepreneurs and having a team of friends, advisers or partners to turn to when you’re not sure which direction to go.
Here are 5 tips to help you build your network.
1. Arrive early
It’s almost counter-intuitive, but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there on the later side. As a first attendee, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.
2. Leave your elevator pitch at the door
Networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy.
If a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with an easy description of your company. Before the event, create a mental list of recent accomplishments, such as a new client you’ve landed or project you’ve completed. That way, you can easily pull an item off that list and into the conversation.
3. Share your passion
Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.
4. Participate in Conferences & Panel Discussions
We know you really like to spend time working — whether it’s at home or in the office. But you should make an exception for the right speaking engagement. Panel discussions are a great way for you to make new friends and expand your professional network. The best organizers work to place people with synergies on panels together. If you can have an hour conversation together on a stage, you probably will want to spend more time getting to know those people.
5. Remember to follow up
It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
Think of networking like any other professional skill. While others in the room may look like born networkers, they are likely just more experienced. It’s something you have to learn through trial and error. And the only way to improve is to just get out there and do it.