Conceptually, we all know that a network is important for personal and business growth; and if you aren’t networking yet, you should get on it ASAP. The question is “How?” A friend and mentor once said, “I know what I know, but I’m very good at knowing what I don’t know. The key is to figure out who are the people that know what I don’t know… and acquire their knowledge or find a way to work with them.”
In other words, it’s crucial to surround yourself with individuals that have diversified interests and skill-sets that can bring value to you and your business. That’s where networking comes into play.
Starting from scratch.
Build your network as soon as possible. No contacts, no network, no community -- ultimately results in no funding and nothing to build upon. This is why it’s essential to lay a solid networking foundation for yourself and your idea. When starting out, don’t make the mistake of wasting time and assuming that networking is just about making small-talk while you grab a quick bite to eat. Instead, attend community events that are relevant to your field and get introduced to influential leaders that you admire. Find that vertical, hone in on it and go all in. For instance, when I was founding my music syncing startup, AmpMe, I didn't have a lot of experience in the music tech scene so I started attending local and national events to educate myself and gain relevant contacts.
Building quality by combining business and pleasure.
My best connections are based on authentic and meaningful interactions so it’s critical that you get to know somebody for who they truly are and establish that common ground. Take the time to learn about their passions, their life goals and figure out what it is that really lights a fire in their eyes. That’s how you’ll discover if there’s a genuine connection to build on. What’s true for your personal relationships also holds true for your business networking contacts. For instance, when I first met an old friend and current investor, I had heard he was a whiz at creating investor decks. At the time I didn’t need that but we hit it off and just bonded over our passion for skiing. He actually organized a ski trip so that we could enjoy a break from our equally hectic lives. Coincidentally, it was also time for me to put AmpMe’s Series A deck together; he helped me create the winning presentation during that ski trip.
Karma is real.
What’s benefited me most is the concept that you must be prepared to give before you get. When you’re just starting out on any project you can expect an asymmetrical relationship at first. Even when you’ve firmly established yourself and your reputation, you should still expect to be giving quite a bit more than you’ll be receiving. Give before you make an ask and you’ll eventually see the fruits of your labor. It’s basic Karma.
Once you’ve established yourself, the challenging part is to nurture key relationships. While practically impossible to stay in touch with all of your connections, it’s important to make a conscious effort to do so. If you let your connections wither on the vine, expect your lead generation to dry up as well.
I try to take a personal interest in my contacts. It’s always fun to bond with fellow entrepreneurs since they can relate to my crazy lifestyle -- family, friends, AmpMe, investments and personal time. Over the years, I’ve realized that it’s difficult to maintain “other” friendships at times. On the flip side, befriending business colleagues can get complicated if the appropriate groundwork isn’t set first. Try not to be over-pushy when you’re attempting to bring friends onboard and respect the natural flow of things. My advice is to leave the hidden agenda behind and invite them to do something fun, such as a nice dinner out or a fun outdoors activity. Remember, it’s not always about scoring points.
Treat people like people and how you would want to be treated, regardless of the situation. If you remember that they’re relationships and not transactions, you’ll get what you need to succeed.
As you get more and more comfortable with networking, your confidence will build and you’ll have a clearer understanding of how you bring value to a particular situation. You’ll also get better at zeroing in on those relevant events and make better use of your time. It’s a steep learning curve at first, but this investment is well worth your time. Finally, make sure to leave your ego out of any business relationship. Networking is not about ego; it’s about getting things done.
Be yourself, keep it real and get yourself out there and have fun.