Whether it’s scheduling a virtual meeting on Zoom, forming a connection on LinkedIn, meeting in person for a coffee, or attending events — effective networking is essential for entrepreneurs and is responsible for the success of 78% of startups. However, despite how accessible networking has become today, it can be difficult to execute effectively for even the most well-versed business people.
One common idea is that networking can often be daunting, especially for introverted entrepreneurs. Many also fear the process is too time-consuming and draining for both groups involved. I’d argue that navigating the difference between access and opportunity or being part of the noise, is the biggest obstacle many investors take on, especially when in the early stages of their careers.
I’ve outlined a few best practices you can use to level up networking skills and form valuable long-term relationships, and it all starts with putting meaning behind the action.
1. Be prepared and establish what you want to learn
The networking process is a massive information highway — so it’s essential to, first and foremost, reflect on where you want to go with your business and determine what you need to know to get there. In other words, entrepreneurs should approach networking with a focus on learning. Once you’ve established what you want to learn, spend time identifying who you need to know and outline an approach for how you could contact them. For example, assess where there’s an overlap in careers, education or expertise, location and areas of interest as a starting point for relationship building.
At the same time, entrepreneurs should also be prepared with what they bring. Whether it is an investor, potential partner, or prospective team member, I encourage you to be motivated to form intentional connections where the value of knowledge and resource sharing is mutually beneficial.
2. Be realistic and manage your expectations
Another part of effective networking is managing expectations. No matter the channel or mode, entrepreneurs should understand what potential opportunities a particular engagement or experience may afford and align their expectations accordingly. For example, if you’re reaching out for the first time or after years of not being in touch, there likely will not be an immediate or urgent response. It may take time to rebuild the connection, so keep in mind patience as a main part of the process.
On the other hand, if you’re attending larger events, there may be an opportunity to establish several valuable connections. Even if it is a new relationship being formed, building that foundation at events can be a great starting point for future conversations. Things do not always go as planned, so being flexible is also important.
3. Be consistent in maintaining relationships
Networking should be an investment entrepreneurs make into creating a relationship and maintaining it in the long run. A key part of this is reframing the outlook of networking as being solely transactional, as there will be minimal value to this. Investors are inundated with inquiries and pitches, so if your approach is to seek an immediate exchange, it will only end up amongst the noise.
Instead, I suggest prioritizing staying up to date with what the potential investor is doing and approaching with thoughtful knowledge and care. This means striking a balance between consistency and over-communication. While checking in is crucial to maintaining those relationships, be mindful of when regularly reaching out becomes overbearing for the person on the other side. Remind yourself that real relationships are formed when planning and purpose are at the forefront as opposed to short-term wins.
Effective networking allows entrepreneurs to access new opportunities and introductions that otherwise would not have been available. Without investing the time and thought to form valuable relationships with investors, partners, or prospects who align with their business goals, you risk ending up amongst the noise.