A big part of being an entrepreneur is networking. While important for everyone in the business world, the process of sharing information with relevant business contacts is particularly valuable for startups. Networking with investors, media, prospective business partners, employees, and customers is key to succeeding in the startup space.
Although some entrepreneurs out there attribute their success to luck, savvy startups know that real business opportunity is created through hard work and consistently showing up in the right place at the right time.
Many startup founders find business networking stressful, but with a little bit of preparation beforehand, anyone can make valuable business contacts.
Here are our top networking tips to make the most out of a networking event:
01.Find the right place
Although networking is the way to go, it’s important to go to networking events that are the right fit for your startup. Ask yourself if the right kind of people will be attending and then assess if the event is worthy of your investment of time and money.
Do not just attend networking events for the sake of it, and keep your expectations realistic. Events enable you to meet many different people, but that’s just the beginning. To create meaningful connections, you need to get yourself out there, ask questions, jump on opportunities, and make sure you keep showing up at all the right places.
While serendipitous business encounters can happen anywhere and anytime, it’s best for startups, that are often short on time, to attend events specifically designed to meet their learning and networking needs.
02.Do your research
Perhaps the most important on this list, doing research prior to attending a networking event is crucial.
Here are a couple of practical tips:
- Understand who are the ‘right’ people for your startup (e.g. investors, partners, team members, co-founders etc.). For example, check the portfolios of investors attending the event and see if you would work well together or check LinkedIn profiles of potential team members to see if their skills are what you need at the moment. This ensures you approach the right people and optimizes your time.
- Gather information on potential investors, media contacts, and other attendees you are interested in, on the event website - if available.
- If any of your prospects have an active online presence, subscribe to their newsletters or YouTube channels. Likewise, if they have published books or articles - take some time to read those.
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- Make a note of the myriad of networking formats that particular event likely offers. This way, you will stay on top of where you can go to network. For example, the Seedstars Summit includes one-on-one meetings with mentors and investors, Entrepreneur Party, etc.)
- Take notes of the interesting facts about your prospects, so you could bring these up in a conversation and tie them to your startup’s value proposition.
03.Create a plan and set goals
You know networking matters and you have done your research. However, when you get to the event - you are at a loss. This is where strategic goal setting and planning come into play.
- Have goals: Think about how this event can help your startup move forward. If it helps you stay motivated, set goals for yourself (e.g. how many people you want to meet or how many meetings you want to book).
- Have a list of individuals you want to connect to: Make sure each person is a relevant contact.
- Create an outreach plan: Brainstorm ideas on how you are going to introduce yourself and start conversations. If you want to go the extra mile, you could plan precisely when and how you are going to reach out to each prospect. You could even write down a key value proposition/point of interest per person.
- Have your business cards ready: Nowadays, digital business cards are more and more popular. There are tons of platforms out there that you can use to create your own digital business card. Not only are they more convenient, but they are also more environmentally friendly.
Naturally, some of the most important encounters happen serendipitously and there’s only so much time a founder has to prepare prior to an event, but planning and preparation for business networking matter nevertheless.
04. Reach out before the event
Reaching out to your prospect before the event can help you stand out and will maximize your chances of success, especially as there might be many others vying for their attention.
One of the most effective ways to reach out to a prospect, an investor for example, is to get an introduction.Use LinkedIn to find people who can introduce you to your prospect, or if you’re feeling brave - reach out to them directly. Using LinkedIn also allows you to obtain crucial information that you can use in conversations (e.g. previous workplaces, interests, accomplishments, and more).
Additionally, many events use apps to deliver more personalized and immersive experiences to their attendees. At Seedstars, for example, we have developed our own event app that helps startups connect to other entrepreneurs and investors. C2 Montréal, the international conference on commerce, even used R.F.I.D. technology (Radio Frequency Identification - unlike barcodes, which must be scanned, RFID chips can be read in rough proximity to a scanner) to provide alerts for attendees when they were close to people they wanted to meet.
If the event you’re attending uses an app, make sure to sign up and gain access to all the networking opportunities that are right for you.
05. Engage on social media
Before the event, engage with your prospects on social media. Consider retweeting, liking, reposting, and pinning their content. If they conduct them, participate in their live video-streaming sessions (plus promote and live-tweet them).
During the event, engage on social media using the event hashtags. Post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, always using the hashtag in your posts.
Not only does engaging on social media in this way allow you to showcase your expertise, but it also provides an opportunity to arrange to meet some of your prospects during coffee breaks, meals, or even after the event is over.
06.You are your product
When networking, you are the face of your startup. You are what the investors will see first, before they even hear anything about your product/service. And first impressions count, a lot.
Research shows that within the first seven seconds of meeting people will have a solid impression of who you are — and some research suggests a tenth of a second is all it takes to start determining traits like trustworthiness.
Be enthusiastic, but not over the top. Be knowledgeable and go for what you want, but do not come across as aggressive. Speaking slowly and deliberately is a sign of confidence, as is good posture.
Adriana Collini, Seedstars Senior Investment Associate, highlighted the importance of showing interest in the other person and what they are doing so that you can understand how to help them reach their goals.
Small things like dressing for the occasion and smiling in the first few seconds of greeting someone can really make an impact on the first impression. Body language can work wonders when you wish to build long-lasting connections and partnerships at events.
Your online presence matters too. Comb through your online profiles to make sure that they portray a realistic, but a positive image of your brand.
07. Stay connected
One of the most important aspects of successful networking is the follow up. Adriana Collini suggested to take notes on the business cards immediately upon receiving them from new contacts. This will help you phrase better follow up emails. Follow up within 24 hours and then regularly after the initial meeting - and don’t (always) ask for something.
A quick email checking in every now and then will certainly pay dividends in the long run. If possible, make a point every so often to grab lunch or coffee with your contact. When you meet, try and take the time to see how the two of you can help each other.
Networking is all about doing your homework, understanding where to be and who are the right people to meet, and engaging with your contacts before, during, and after the event. It’s about showing up strategically but authentically.
Whether you’re an extrovert - thriving in high-stimuli environments like events, or an introvert - for whom networking can be a source of terror, networking can work for you. If you’re an extrovert, use that to your advantage. If you’re an introvert, prepare in advance to reduce anxiety, and perhaps choose the type of networking space wisely (e.g. choose one-on-one meetings and small group discussions over big open-space networking).
Business in this day and age is all about relationships, so investing in creating meaningful business relationships with your contacts is essential.
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