I’ve spent a lot of time in my career working for and with big brands like Google, Adobe, UPS, or Orange. These experiences have brought me all over the world, connected me with numerous contacts and helped me build my skills in networking.
However, my current state is one of the Entrepreneur and small business owner, but despite the change in job description, the value of networking to me has not changed in the slightest. In fact, I find it even more important to build meaningful relationships as an entrepreneur because they are the life force of my business.
This article is for the entrepreneurs, who are grinding day in and day out to turn their seedling organizations into blossoming businesses. Networking can seem like a waste of
time when you are trying to turn nothing into something. My big brother and mentor Ray once told me: “Paul… being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart”. He was spot on! Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of grit, energy, resourcefulness, as well as a good investor or two, but I would argue that having a solid network is just essential for entrepreneurial success. Your network can be the very difference in a business going boom or bust. It’s all a matter of perspective. You may see networking as a time suck of endless schmoozing, I’m here to tell you it’s a gold mine.
Tweaking Your Approach
Let’s start with having the right approach going into a networking event, or rather what it should not be. Don’t go into an event thinking, “I have to sell my app.” This sets an unrealistic expectation of immediate results. Networking is not a world of 0’s and 1’s, and the results may not come that night, in the next weeks, or months.
It could be as trivial as a quick chat with a potential customer or as game-changing as meeting an angel investor who will keep your company afloat for years to come. Much of networking is about planting seeds. With a bit of nurturing and the right conditions, they can grow into strong, lasting relationships.
Another misleading approach is to walk into an event expecting to get something. As I’ve wrote about in A Networking Book, good networking starts by giving, so be altruistic and generous! An article by Entrepreneur also had this insight to offer:
“Often we go to a networking event to seek immediate answers of our problems or challenges from others. That’s not the smart way to go about it. It is better to ask questions and find out how you can add value to others, instead of the other way around. Be sure of what you can bring to the table, and proactively share tips to be helpful. Once you start extending help, it’s much more likely to be reciprocated.” *
Embrace the idea of selling
Having the right approach is important, but you also need to be in the right mindset. Once you wake up every day, you should be in sales mode. Don’t believe me? Then take it from billionaire serial entrepreneur Peter Thiel. In his New York Times bestseller Zero To One, he decries the long-held Silicon-Valley ideal of “if you build it, they will come”, meaning entrepreneurs should focus solely on the product, and if the product is good enough, it will sell itself.
Instead, Thiel asserts that selling is just as important as product. People need to know about your product before they can be convinced of it and getting out to talk to people about your business is just the way to do so.
Networking is a superb practice ground for your sales pitch. Oftentimes we need to say something fifty times out loud to see what works, what doesn’t, and to feel comfortable and confident in talking about our ideas. If you are just starting out, or have an idea for a business, networking can also be a chance to validate your ideas, finding that perfect mix of persuasive words to articulate your concept. You need someone now and again to tell you that your plan is crazy, or you just need a push from someone to tell you that you’d be crazy not to run with it.
Finally, you may not just be selling to customers, but to potential employees. When you gush about your venture with enthusiasm and confidence, people will resonate with that and be inspired to join you, because when people buy your product they are also buying you. Don’t limit your talent pool to who comes to you, go out and find your next rock star employee!
Sharpening the Saw
Networking is not all about talking or selling yourself. Any great salesperson will tell you that sales is just as much about listening. I live by a very simple tenet that when I talk to people and more importantly, listen to people, I learn more. Stephen Covey calls it “sharpening the saw”. When I’m talking to smart people who are experts in their field, I get smarter and more knowledgeable. It is as simple as that, and it can be a huge value- add for you as an entrepreneur.
You can hear the latest trends in the industry and may even find out a bit about the competition. As you chat over drinks and explain the idea for your startup, someone could interject with, “No way! A friend of my sister is doing the same thing!” Now at first this may seem like a blow, but it is better to find out about a competitor sooner rather than later.
Networking can be a supplier of inside knowledge as well as a source for advice. If you meet with a fellow entrepreneur, chances are they have some of the same challenges you face. You can share tips and tricks and help one another as peers. Fellow entrepreneurs with more experience can become solid mentors who impart their own experiences and plug you into their own rich network of contacts.
It’s All About Perspective
Though you are the heart and soul of your business, nothing of significance has ever been achieved by one person alone. Businesses can be made and destroyed by just a few solid relationships with the right people or the lack thereof. With a focused approach to your networking initiatives, you can discover your steadiest customer, a game-changing talent, your next investor, or a priceless insight on the industry. Start looking at networking or ‘coalition building’ or extending your network – call it what you want – as your sales training ground, an ad space, a recruiting device, and a well of knowledge and guidance. You and your business will be all the better for it
I’m not just talking the talk. I’ve earned multinational experience and became an entrepreneur myself, none of which would have happened without networking. You just have to believe in the power of people.
Could you ever imagine managing your business without the support of others?
About Paul Renaud
Paul Renaud is a Certified Executive Coach, Networking specialist, and sought-after public speaker focused on helping executives at all stages in their careers optimize their opportunities for success. To learn more, visit www.paul-renaud.com