Having a broad and actionable network is important for any business. For a startup however, it can be the difference between life and death.
In the early days of many startups, an entrepreneur’s network is their bread and butter while their company establishes itself; a source of warm leads and friendly introductions that can be a great sales and marketing tactic.
As a survey of 5,000 entrepreneurs conducted by Kauffman FasTrac discovered, networking is viewed as the top skill required for entrepreneurial success. Small business networking ultimately helps you build connections with important people in your industry, attract and engage new talent, and create a community of likeminded people.
At the end of the day, a great network just makes things a bit easier as an entrepreneur. A great network is a gateway to opportunity. Here are the 7 keys to the art of startup and small business networking.
1. Find the Right People
Start by figuring out where and how the community you hope to be a part of currently networks. Social media is a great tool for this, as you can easily find likeminded people in your area through simple searches and social listening.
2. Find the Right Events
Use free resources like Meetup and industry event blogs to find the right networking opportunities for your target market and industry. Meetup.com is a particularly good source of free entrepreneur-focused networking events. But don’t limit yourself to a certain type of event – be inventive in your quest to connect with prospects, suppliers, partners, or potential investors.
3. Be Prepared
Research the conference and its anticipated attendees before the event, arrive early, and bring all necessary marketing materials, especially business cards. As a startup, you need to ensure the materials you bring can convey your vision and value proposition in a matter of seconds, regardless of whether you’re talking with a prospect, supplier, or potential investor.
4. Be Social
While networking events are business-focused, try to remember that networking is a social activity. Don’t be the robot in the room. Be social. If you’re not an outwardly social person, just listen and ask interesting questions.
5. Set Goals
It’s a great idea to set concrete goals for every event you attend – what are you trying to achieve by being at a particular event, what does success look like, and what is your end goal if everything goes right? Establishing goals will help keep you on track.
6. Nurture Relationships
Start by connecting with your new contacts on social media. Tools like LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to stay up to date and build a relationship by sharing content. They also provide you with a forum to share your own ideas that could be helpful to your network.
7. Ask For Help
Relationship nurturing always comes first, but the entire point of putting in the effort to build a network is so it’s there when you need it. If you’re looking for guidance, feedback, or warm introductions to potential customers, find the right contact and ask for help. But networking is a game of give-and-take, so always replicate whenever and wherever you are able to.
If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, one networking opportunity you’re not going to want to miss in October is Canada’s #1 small business conference. This year, we’re happy to be a promotional partner for The Art of Small Business in Toronto on October.21st, 2013. The conference will feature seven best-selling authors and industry thought leaders, including Michael Gerber, Chris Guillebeau, J.J. Ramberg, John Jantsch, Jonathan Fields, Mitch Joel and Stephen Shapiro.
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