It is a universally acknowledged truth that immersing yourself in the industry you work in will only benefit you when building a business. Nonetheless, the ability to connect and build a network within your community can be a tough art to master. Sure, some entrepreneurs are more natural networkers than others, but even the most extrovert of characters need to focus and maximise value for the precious time invested in attending events.
Just like any business process, networking should be approached with specific goals in mind – what does your business need in order to develop, and who can help you get there? The answers to these questions may change over time, but the steps to building and maintaining lasting relationships that hold true value are always the same.
Pick the events you go to carefully
Establish whom you’d like to meet, and get in touch with them before the event. Just because you’re a tech business doesn’t mean that you need to attend technology events. Think outside the box. Are you trying to reach potential customers in the retail sector? Think about events or networking groups run by the retail press or trade associates. Want to speak to investors? How about NOAH or a BVCA event? The point is, choose the events that are going to help you meet the right people for your business. Once you’ve perused the attendee list for targets, connect with them beforehand. Many events organisers will provide online tools or apps to help you connect before, during and after the event. Use them!
Quality – not quantity
Speaking to as many people as possible may feel as though you’re opening more doors, but spending time fostering fewer relationships will be far more worthwhile in the long run. Look for intimate settings, rather than the often-unwieldy crowds at the “mega-events”, and look for events that feature decision makers. Instead of focusing on amassing a huge pile of business cards, take the time to write notes on each card you collect about how you met and what you talked about. These will be useful prompts for when you follow up.
What can you offer?
Think not only about what you can gain from knowing someone, but also what you can offer them. Strive to make connections that will be mutually beneficial. Have you ever had a friend that always asks you for your advice but never listens to your problems? Annoying isn’t it? Business is no different. Always try to think about what you have that can add value to the people you meet, whether you seek them out, or vice versa. Don’t just talk – listen! The most valuable connections might just be the unexpected ones.
What’s your story?
Rather than honing a “pitch,” to potential investors or partners, learn to tell a compelling story. Use anecdotes to illustrate the problems you’ll solve, and how your solution will change lives. Your story is personal, as are the interactions you engage in.
The follow-up is just as important as the initial meeting
Perhaps the most important rule of them all. Following-up with someone after meeting them at an event is imperative – you’ll be much more memorable than other passing faces they’ve met, and it’ll break the ice for when you next meet.
Becoming a regular fixture at key industry events will help to establish your status within a circle, and will help to ensure that you’re up-to-date with current happenings within your industry. Nevertheless, nurturing the connections that you make will always be the most important facet of networking, regardless of whether they are customers, investors or influencers. The bottom line of networking is that it should always be about driving value back into the business.
Elizabeth Perry is co-founder of White Bull Summits – the organisation behind the Bully Awards, recognising the best European startups and scale ups.