The common wisdom is that entrepreneurs naturally like to meet people. The truth is, most would rather do almost anything else. While some entrepreneurs are naturally gregarious, the majority seem to dislike networking so much that they will make every effort to avoid the exercise.
Yet, time and again I’ve seen that businesses led by owners who refuse to make new connections struggle rather than succeed. Customers, strategic partners and key employees must be sought out if a young company is to thrive.
That said, I understand the reluctance people feel when entering a room full of strangers How do you sift through a mass of people to find those who share common interests, work in similar industries, work toward shared goals? The truth is, there are tricks and techniques you can master that make it far easier than you imaging.
- Start your networking by joining groups that share your industry, your profession or your market. You can find these groups on Meetup.com, LinkedIn.com and by contacting the professional organizations that certify those in your industry.
- When you join a new group, offer to serve as a volunteer. Try to be given a job that puts you into direct contact with every member of the group. You’ll find that the person who passes out name tags gets to know everyone.
- Smile. Really, it is all going to be Okay. Networking is what we used to call “play” before we grew up. It’s finding group of people doing something interesting and hanging out with them while they do it. You aren’t looking for true love or deep friendships, though over time you may find both. You’re just looking for someone to hang out with. If you recall your playground manners, you know you have to be nice to the new kids, avoid the bullies and befriend people with a “Hello”. “Hi! My name’s Ted. I’m a programmer with a start up. What do you do?”
- Be able to describe what you do in a sentence. The older you get, the harder that is. Find something interesting to say that gives people a general idea and then assume that you’ll have more time to fill in the blanks. “I work in steel,” or “I’m a film producer” or “I sell things” are find handshake intros.
- Have business cards to trade and make sure they have your email address. One friend I know writes something he thinks will be helpful to everyone he talks to on the back of every card he passes out. So if he meets someone that would benefit from knowing how to upload lots of videos onto the internet, he writes “www.tubemogul.com multiple video upload” on the back of his card. He writes the same thing on the back of the card they give him. That makes it easier to reconnect the next day with the folks he like.
Networking is something most entrepreneurs don’t do nearly enough of, and the more you do it the better your business will do. People deliver opportunities. It is unlikely that a multi-million pound customer is going to knock on your front door, but its quite likely several of them will be at the next big local trade show for your industry. Maybe you should be a “regular” at that event for the next few years. Maybe every week you should find a way to network with a few hundred people in your industry, in your community or among the groups that support your customers.
If you accomplish that objective, and follow the suggestions outlined in this article, I can almost guarantee you’ll pick up lots of new business and many new opportunities in just a few weeks.