“Who you know” is critical to entrepreneurial success. So, when you’re starting a business, think about how you can build a vibrant, professional network.
Everyone, regardless of personality or demeanor, can benefit from a base of strong business connections. If you’ve previously been uncomfortable networking, try to shake off this mindset and start seeing it as a necessary part of building a business—an opportunity to learn, grow, give and participate.
Alana Muller, author, consultant, coach and speaker, draws from her own experience and offers the following networking advice:
“Like many young professional women, in my first few jobs I believed that if I kept my head down and focused on doing my very best work, I would go far. I maintained that approach until 2003, when I was invited to interview for a position with the COO of my fortune 40 employer. Although I’d never met the fellow one-on-one before, the interview went well until he said: ‘You’ve been with the company five years, have an outstanding resume and experience and I’m really enjoying our conversation. So, why is it that I’ve never heard of you before?’”
“I was dumbstruck. I’d been so focused on my job, that I’d forgotten—or perhaps it had never occurred to me—to build relationships beyond the four walls of my cubicle. I made the decision then and there to get to know my colleagues from across the company, intentionally building my internal network. Over the next few years, I came to know thousands of colleagues within, and business partners beyond, my 60,000-person organization.”
“Fast forward five years, as I began to consider career opportunities outside my current company. Again I discovered I had limited my networking by not looking beyond the four walls of my own company. I needed to make networking part of my existence. And since then, I have come to discover that networking is truly the key to success in every part of life.”
Here are five things to help you become more intentional in your networking:
- Redefine networking. Networking isn’t just about finding a job, making money, landing a big sale or collecting business cards. It connects you with others, establishes community and deepens your personal sense of belonging.
- Think quality, not quantity. Real networking, meaningful networking, is about creating or building long-term personal relationships without thought of the outcome. So, when attending a networking event, aim for the greatest interactions rather than the greatest number of interactions.
- It’s not just who you know … it’s who knows you. When interacting with both new and established contacts, it’s so important to have memorable interactions, conversations and experiences so these individuals find you memorable too.
- Carve out time every day. Develop a networking routine—a meeting in the morning and a meeting at midday and/or afternoon. By doing this, you’ll quickly build a sizable relationship base.
- Be prepared. Have a list of people with whom you’d like to reconnect and a list of others who you’d like to know but don’t yet. Do some online research and find out a little about your connections and/or their companies and interests. Also be ready to give of yourself—time, information and resources—so you’re adding value at every turn.
Networking efforts do have a big payoff.
But if you’re not quite sure where to start—how to find the new connections you want for your entrepreneurial venture—here are a few suggestions for activities or groups that might get you started:
Open Invite Communities
- 1 Million Cups—1millioncups.com; This organization gives entrepreneurs a chance to tell a bit about their company—the challenges, what’s working well, plans for business growth, etc. The premise is that if entrepreneurs could get together and talk about these things, the collective brainpower of the community would help them reach their goals.
- Kauffman FastTrac—fasttrac.org; Aspiring entrepreneurs get access to a broad network through in-person courses, access to information and exposure to local and regional experts.
- SourceLink—joinsourcelink.com; These networks provide trusted referrals to funding sources for loans and equity, first customers and mentors that can help support your business.
- Association of Women’s Business Centers—awbc.org/; This national non-profit works to secure economic justice and entrepreneurial opportunities to help women succeed by providing training, mentoring, business development and financing opportunities.
- Small Business Development Center—sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc; They offer opportunities to build your network with other entrepreneurs and through counseling with business experts. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies helping aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as existing businesses, realize the dream of business ownership continued competitiveness.
- Virtual Communities—LinkedIn® and Facebook®; Participating in vibrant communities for business owners enables you to engage with like-minded people, post questions, engage in discussions, share knowledge, etc.
- Membership/Fee-based Organizations; One example is ellevatenetwork.com, a network made up of successful, motivated and passionate professional women with the common belief that investing in themselves and in other women is good business.
- Mentors; Smart entrepreneurs recognize the value of mentors: Sage advice, guidance, support and direction. Create your own mentor network using these considerations:
- Know what you want to get out of the relationship
- Find the right person and build a relationship. Consider people who you would like to target and get to know them.
- Get creative. Consider the value provided by having more than one mentor—varying viewpoints and knowledge. And be creative with how you interact—maybe it’s breakfast once every six months or a monthly email.
- Ask. Do your research and then actually ask the potential person. If you don’t know a potential mentor directly and there is someone in your network who does, ask them if they would be willing to make an introduction for you.
- Give where you can. Remember that mentor/mentee relationships are reciprocal. Make the relationships easier by bending to your mentor’s schedule and preferred location for meetings, sending calendar appointments and always following up. Offer help where you can by promoting their events or articles by retweeting or sharing to your own network.
- Board of advisors; Getting the right mix of opinion and talent on your board is a wonderful stepping stone for your new venture. Also, leverage the relationships of these individuals by asking for introductions to people and organizations that could benefit your business.
You don’t need to be an outgoing, business-savvy insider to start building your professional network. Take it one step at a time and plan your networking efforts. Your new connections can be individual entrepreneurs like yourself or entire communities who inspire you. Or they might be people with complementary skill sets that will prove useful as you build your business. Begin by carefully considering what you’re looking for in a network. Then get some meetings on your calendar.
This article is the eighth in a series written to help women entrepreneurs like you take a closer look at what’s keeping you from moving forward, overcome doubts and understand the fundamentals and the mindset needed to help make you successful. They are not designed to help you build your financials or create your marketing plan, but rather to prod you to think bigger … and begin thinking with the mindset of an entrepreneur. They will appear on our blog: https://insightsnationalseminarstraining.com/ and in our free monthly professional women’s newsletter which you can subscribe to: http://www.nationalseminarstraining.com/womenslink/index.cfm
If you missed our first four articles, read them here:
- Women Entrepreneurs: What’s Keeping You From Starting the Business of Your Dreams
- Creating the Mindset for Success as a Female Entrepreneur
- 7 Questions to Ponder Before You Start a New Business
- Does Starting a Business Feel Too Risky to You?
- Why Women Need to Break Free of the Ideal of “Having It All”
- 3 Shared Money Fears of Many Daring Female Entrepreneurs
- How to Create the Brand That Will lead to New Business Success