5 tips for effective networking
Networking: a dreaded activity for some, an enjoyable afterwork outing for others. But networking, when used effectively, can be the secret ingredient to helping you and your startup. We have complied five tips to help you succeed at networking.
Quality, not quantity
A common misconception when it comes to networking is that the quantity of people networked with is the most important part, but this is not the case. Having a couple of in-depth, valuable conversations is a lot better than plenty of quick, forgettable ones.
When it comes to quality connections, it helps to know what you want to achieve through networking. Whether it's seeking advice from others in the field, or simply expanding the number of connections you have, having clear goals will help you focus your efforts and ensure that you aren’t wasting networking opportunities.
When engaging in networking conversations, practice active listening. It is fundamental that you pay attention to what the other person is saying, ask relevant questions, and show that you value their opinions and experiences. Rather than waiting to jump in with your own opinions, make sure to take a step back and let the other person speak, and take the time to get to know them.
You should approach networking opportunities with a sincere and authentic attitude. People can often tell when you're being insincere or only interested in what they can do for you. You need to show genuine interest in others and their work, or risk coming across as self-absorbed and uncooperative.
Prepare an elevator pitch
As a founder, you can talk about your startup and ideas for hours on end. While this shows genuine passion for the product, when in a networking setting, this isn’t the most appropriate approach.
Prior to attending networking events, prepare a brief and compelling introduction about yourself and your business. The pitch should highlight your skills, experience, and what you're looking to achieve. Rather than spending a long time explaining your background, condense it into around 30 seconds. An elevator pitch gives you the opportunity to make a lasting impression and potentially open up the conversation for further discussion.
It’s all well and good to introduce yourself to someone at an event and have a fantastic conversation, but if not followed up, this can fizzle out. Exchanging business cards is only the first step. You can’t expect to create a fruitful business relationship if you don’t follow up on the conversation afterwards.
Ideally, you should follow up within 24 hours, or at a push 48 hours. This is to show that you’re interested in carrying on the conversation, and ensuring the other person will remember you. Send a brief email or message expressing your pleasure at meeting them and reference any specific points from your conversation to help them remember you, this adds a personal touch to an email that can otherwise come across as a chore.
In the same vein, networking isn’t just about meeting new people. A vital part of networking is ensuring that you nurture existing relationships. Stay in touch with your contacts regularly, even if it's just a quick message, or a like/comment on their social media posts to show support. This then means that if you reach out with a business enquiry or for advice from them, the relationship doesn’t feel one-sided, but instead is seen as an ongoing partnership. Sometimes to nurture a relationship, all it needs is these simple acts, rather than setting up meetings on a regular basis (though, this can be also be a good way of maintaining the relationship, depending on whether or not both sides have the time.)
With these tips, you’ll be sure to succeed at your next networking event, and be able to grow and maintain a strong network as a startup founder.