The most valuable resource an entrepreneur has is time, so everything on your schedule should leverage those precious hours. In fact, asking how to connect with other entrepreneurs, clients, mentors or investors is not the question you should be asking. Rather, you should be focusing on why you want to connect with them in the first place.
The end goal of networking isn’t to be as connected to as many people as possible; it’s to connect with the people who can help you overcome obstacles to building your business. In fact, many entrepreneurs go awry playing a volume game, collecting junior board nominations, grabbing multiple coffees a week and attending social events at night. The biggest chunk of your waking hours should be dedicated to building an exceptional product or service, articulating that vision to the marketplace, ensuring operational excellence in all aspects of your business and raising the cash to bring it all to life.
Getting connected is then a strategic treasure hunt, a quest to find ways to plug holes in any of these four areas, and here are some guidelines I swear by.
1. Nurture your existing relationships.
People who have worked with you in the past –colleagues, classmates, teammates — can attest to your substance and skills and can help make things happen for you faster than new acquaintances. Do your best to stay in touch with these contacts for the long haul. You never know when you might be able to tap into them to share an idea or opportunity.
2. Do your homework.
There are countless outlets for cultivating new relationships: formal conventions, small seminars and low-key meet-ups, to name a few. But before you get in front of a new crowd, do a bit of research as to the leaders, membership and goals of the organization. Then use your time at the event wisely, identifying mutually beneficial projects to collaborate on right away. Working with others, as opposed to just “happy-houring” with them, cements deeper, more lasting bonds.
3. Ask questions.
Part of networking is having the humility to listen more than you speak. So don’t be afraid to raise your hand, ask a compelling question and start a dialogue. Allow someone else to be the authority. Most people are delighted to be seen as experts in their fields.
4. Know your story and make it stand out.
People respond more favorably and more immediately to entrepreneurs who can articulate a company’s trajectory in a compelling narrative. So, when you’re asking new networks for help be prepared to dazzle them with both your concept and conviction. If you don’t believe in yourself, then the people you network with won’t believe in you.
5. Make every conversation personal.
Human nature compels us to surround ourselves with people we like, so be friendly and don’t make it all about business, especially during the first couple of interactions. You may meet someone sitting next to each other at a dinner. Your discussions may or may not include occupational/business matters, but stay in touch, and those friendships may lead to business collaborations or other related occupational benefits, maybe even many years later.
6. Pay it forward.
Think of ways you can give back to your fellow entrepreneurs, too, whether it’s a fresh point-of-view, relevant industry articles, pivotal introductions or acting as trusted sounding board. People wanted to help me with my professional life (founding Compass) because I was helping others in my personal life (founding a nonprofit for first-generation college students, America Needs You).