Turn Pitch Mode: OFF
In my experience as an entrepreneur, I can not stress enough, the importance of networking.
Getting out there, attending events, and meeting people is an incredible way to get invaluable feedback on your product, to grow your business, and most importantly to form meaningful relationships and make friends.
As the saying goes...People love to do business with people they like.
Making friends that are also in the same industry or on the same journey can also provide a necessary support network as you build a business that often first starts in isolation.
Understanding that you are not alone and that everyone faces similar highs and lows as they build their business can help put things in perspective and keep you focused on your journey.
So with all of that in mind, I definitely think there is a right and wrong way to network - so let me share what has worked for me.
1) A Support Network
"These are our People" - Sam Altman (Y-Combinator on Startup Grind)
Surrounding yourself with like-minded entrepreneurs is essential to your success.
Some people will be further ahead and be able to provide guidance, and some will be a little behind you and that's where you can help. You have a lot in common and that allows you can make a genuine connection pretty quickly.
Let me highlight the two key takeaways in what I just mentioned - give value and a genuine connection.
This cannot be accomplished by immediately meeting someone with your business card in hand, pitching them, and asking them for something you need!
Feel free to talk to about what you are working on, but start by asking who they are and what they are up to. Offer your advice, if they ask, and provide constructive feedback but that should happen all after introductions and a thoughtful 'what brings you here?' If you met someone at the bus stop or a party you wouldn't turn to them, hand them a business card and proceed to pitch your business and end the conversation with your current fundraising status. It's crazy.
As an event host, my first job is just to welcome people and to try and make them feel comfortable. Understand that they are probably feeling awkward in this new setting and this is amplified if they are alone. So just keep the context in mind. Don not have your team jump on people and ask them to download your app.
Be genuine and think about making lasting relationships. Once you have got to know them a little or if they ask feel free to talk about your startup.
A way to talk about and improve your business
Do not be afraid to talk openly about your project, particularly if you have not started. Ideas are nothing without execution. The guy or girl that had the idea for Facebook before Zuckerberg had exactly that - just an idea. Talking about your product, demonstrating its features, can provide you with invaluable feedback. Its a mechanism for improvement not for people to steal IP, nor do you have to take anyone's advice to heart.
As a rule of thumb, consider that people are generally trying to help you improve your offer, not trying to put you down - don't take it personally. As entrepreneurs, we often fall in love with our startup and have an intimate knowledge of each of its features, and how it should operate. So it should be enlightening that if and when people use it and have issues navigating the product. You want to know these issues and make improvements before you launch publicly. The fault is on your side not theirs so Remain objective!
Meet potential clients / partners
The world certainly becomes smaller and your chances of serendipity will definitely increase as you network. Events bring a lot of people together, those looking for co-founders, venture capitalists looking for investment opportunities, and service providers that are usually looking to sell you something but could also become customers. Your next client or business opportunity can literally land in your lap as a result, for a very little cost. That can also come indirectly, by making a genuine impression on someone that then, in turn, recommends you to a friend.
Staying top of mind and relevant
When someone says 'I need help with social media', unless you have good friend that has a small agency, or does that for a living - your mind naturally gravitates to the last person that you met - usually from an event! Networking helps you to stay relevant. "Oh I wish I could get someone to sit my dog". "Oh wow I just met the founder of a dog sitting platform - let me connect you". What are the chances? :) The beauty is that the referral also comes from a trusted source. So stay active, particularly in your early days.
Say hello to the organiser
This is an underrated piece advice that is tremendously powerful. At the end of an event people often clamour around the speaker and for obvious reasons, and this is absolutely something you should do, but, it is also incredibly powerful to introduce yourself to the organiser, to say thank you and congratulate them on a great event.
These people are not only connected to the speaker but probably know a lot of people in the room, what they do for a living, and how they could help you. Further, their introduction to these people gives you a top-level referral.
Just meet people, be human!
The advice is simple, genuinely listen and try to help. It may very well be the case that the chance to introduce your own business may never arise, and if that is the case - never force it. Authenticity is never forced in fact it looks awkward. Just be human, its not a rcae to hand out business cards!:)
Hopefully this helped give you a few helpful tactics for networking at your next event - and see you around the traps!:)