Networking is important. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, it’s always good to know other professionals active in your sector or niche. Through networking you can come into contact with like-minded people, potential clients, partners, or perhaps even friends!
As an entrepreneur, networking is even more important. Whether you want to acquire additional customers, improve your presence, or get to know potential business partners, networking is simply something you should just make time for.
But if you just started out as an entrepreneur, networking can be daunting. It may be difficult to put your name out there, and to talk to people you do not know yet. For this reason, we’ve written down everything we know about networking for entrepreneurs — including why it’s important to network; how to network as a founder; and even suggestions on networking in times of a global pandemic. Let’s get started!
The Importance of Networking for Entrepreneurs
As the English poet John Donne said:
“No Man is an Island”
In other words, no one can manage everything by him- or herself — not even entrepreneurs! So that’s the short version of why networking is important: You simply need to be part of a community to thrive.
For entrepreneurs or startup founders specifically, there are several reasons that make networking so important. Here are four:
1. Connecting with like-minded people
Networking helps you to make connections with like-minded people. People who also have an entrepreneurial drive, and who can provide you with extra energy, motivation, or ideas for your business. Using a Meetup group, conference or another way to network enables you to get in touch with people with whom you can connect well. These may be entrepreneurs active in your industry, or others who can share their experiences and help you to grow your business as a mentor. From ideas and feedback, to tips and tricks for new business owners, you will certainly get into contact with interesting people.
2. Business development
Obviously, networking isn’t just useful for getting to know interesting people. It is a vital part of being a founder of a new company. Chances are, when you start to network on purpose, you will attract new customers, suppliers, or even investors for your business. If you really want to grow your business, think about the right networking platform — ideally one where your target group comes to. As long as you put the time in, there are infinite opportunities that you may get by networking.
3. Learning to believe in yourself
As an entrepreneur, you should have the confidence to interact with people and tell them about your business. But if you’re starting for the first time (or even second or third time) this is HARD! It’s difficult to be fully convinced of your idea and talk about your business like it’s a real business — not just something you made up.
But the only way to get past this is to practice. Interacting with different people helps you to increase your confidence. If you’re talking to attendees at a business event, they will give you their views without making fun of you or judging you. In other words, it’s a great way to improve the belief in yourself and in your company.
4. Improving your pitching and sales skills
Whatever you use to network and talk to new people (from events to LinkedIn), the more you do it, the more you get to pitch your company or idea. You can use these networking opportunities to get feedback from other people on your business. You can improve your pitch over time, and even get to improve the way you convince others of the value of your product or service. Basically, it’s a great way to learn how to do sales! Surely, not all events you attend will be full of potential clients, but they will still allow you to improve your pitch, and get support from new interesting people.
How to Network as a Startup Founder
It should be clear by now how important it is to network — whether you’re an entrepreneur or founder of a startup or not. So with that in mind, let’s look at different ways to connect with potential customers and like-minded people.
Join an entrepreneur community
Joining an entrepreneurial organization is the best way to meet and connect with relevant individuals. However, there are almost too many communities to count! So think about who you want to meet, and what community would be relevant to your specific situation.
For example, if you’re interested in meeting other founders in your niche — it may be best to simply google for e.g. ‘Software development community’. Depending on how specific your niche is, you will probably find something.
Plus, there are countless organizations that accommodate those who have just started their business or planning to start one. Think for instance of our very own Enter Network. If you decide to join our entrepreneur community, you will get to meet all kinds of entrepreneurs — from those that just started their business to potential mentors with years of experience.
Whatever community you choose – whether it’s Enter Network, Indiehackers, Future Females, or something else entirely – the benefits are priceless. As long as you put in some effort and really get to know other people, it will be surely worth your time.
Participate actively on the right social platform
Networking doesn’t need to be limited to events or communities alone! You can easily network by being active on your favorite social media platform. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or even TikTok.
The important thing is that you choose a platform that you’re comfortable with using, and where interesting people hang out! The goal of networking through social media isn’t just to get new followers, but rather to start interesting conversations with people that are relevant to you as an entrepreneur.
You can do that in different ways. You could send direct messages to people you’ve interacted with, or start a discussion on a specific topic. As long as you’re honest and want to help others, people will be very interested in hearing more about your story.
Engage with people!
As mentioned, the objective of networking as a founder is not just to make superficial connections. If you’re attending an event only to collect business cards, you’re doing it wrong.
Rather, your goal should be to develop relationships. Active and often engagement with connections will help you go a long way and will benefit you while growing your business.
You can develop deeper relationships by updating others on what you’re working on, your growth strategy, or even your weekend plans! You can also engage with others by telling them any of your achievements or major mistakes you made in your entrepreneurial journey.
Attend Meetups and other events
Attending social events is a great way to connect with others and grow your network while having a bit of fun. Some events are organized specifically for the purpose of helping people network while other events may be fun parties that turn into networking opportunities.
An easy way to find a good event is to check out the Meetup website. For example, here at Enter Network we have created a London Entrepreneurship Meetup page, which we use to promote our different events.
However, there are many more places where you can find relevant networking events to attend. You can find events on Eventbrite, LinkedIn, and even your local chamber of commerce.
Provide value and build relationships
If you really want to form strong connections, then try to be a helping hand. If you’re only networking in order to ‘gain’ something (from acquiring new clients to improving your pitching skills), people will notice.
However, if you can talk to people in such a way that you can also provide help, then this will certainly come back to you. Helping others will make your network stronger, and if you believe in karma — then it’s the right way to go.
So how do you help people in a networking session? The first step is to really listen to what they say. Be interested, and try to understand their business and professional (and even personal) situation. On that basis, you can perhaps suggest another person in your network they should talk to; an interesting book you’ve read, or podcast you’ve listened to; or a useful idea. Whatever it is, as long as you’re interested and truly want to help, you will certainly build a great network.
Networking in Times of COVID-19
COVID-19 has turned people’s lives upside down. This also applies to networking, especially for entrepreneurs. Before the pandemic hit, people used to meet each other face-to-face, but currently, all networking events have turned into “virtual face-to-face” meetings.
And yet, networking in times of a global pandemic is not as simple as simply joining an online meetup. In contrast to physical events, usually online events don’t offer you the opportunity to talk to a variety of people. It’s really the networking part of an event (i.e. grabbing a drink and talking to a stranger or group of strangers) that is not really possible anymore.
So how do you deal with this? Well, the right way to deal with this is to separate networking into two steps: 1) Finding interesting people to talk to, and 2) Actually talking to them.
During a physical event, you perform both steps simultaneously. You talk to some people here and there until you find someone that is truly interesting for you and your business, and you keep the conversation going.
But an online event usually doesn’t give you the opportunity to ‘talk to some people here and there’. So instead, you use the event to get an idea of who could be interesting for your business. You then write the names of these people down, add them on LinkedIn (or another social network), and try to find out a bit more about them.
That’s step 1. If you’re convinced that they could be a prospect or simply an interesting person to talk to, then you move to step 2 and ask to schedule a brief call or online meeting. This step does take some getting used to though!
Spread Your Wings and Fly
As you can see, networking for entrepreneurs is all about building relationships with like-minded people and providing value to yourself and your business. From acquiring new leads to improving your pitching skills, it is vital for any entrepreneur to network regularly.
So join an entrepreneur community, attend meetups, participate on your favorite social media platform, engage with people, and provide real value. Then you will have mastered the art of networking as a startup founder, which will certainly lead to a successful business.
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