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For many startups, launching a newly-formed business is a race against a ticking clock. And, as the saying goes, time is money.
Drawing upon people you already have a relationship with — networking — is simply the quickest way to get the ball rolling.
However, for Publicize’s Head of Client Acquisition, Jennifer Poole, networking is more than just an action to be completed over a finite amount of time.
“Networking is a mindset,” she said, explaining how the process doesn’t start when you enter networking events for startups, and end when you leave.
With in-person events on hold for the time being, this change in approach to networking could be a useful lesson for startups, who are currently facing challenges they’ve never experienced before.
Understand how to provide value
The startup network, like many others, relies on connections.
Having a network and being able to leverage it can be the deciding factor for many entrepreneurs looking to start their own business.
So, do your market research. Is there a service your colleagues are looking for, or need? Is there something missing from an existing service that you might be able to offer?
Offering it will provide value for your connections, who might someday be able to provide value in return.
Say, for example, your connections are on the lookout for business partners, employee referrals, or even clients. If you’ve already provided value for them, they’ll be more likely to help you out. Afterall, there’s a favor to be repaid.
This give-take relationship can ultimately require some perseverance, but thankfully, good things come to those who wait.
“Understand your value, give give give, and be patient,” Poole recommends.
There’s a lot to be said for over-analysing the best way to approach prospective mentors, partners or clients. Some entrepreneurs might try to schmooze with over-the-top gestures towards customers. Others might plan strategic questions and ask accordingly.
But for Poole, the best way to establish connections is simply to be yourself.
“People are people, no matter what situation you’re in, networking or otherwise — they like to feel valued and listened to,” she said.
Of course, it’s always wise to play on your strengths. If you’re a salesperson, drawing upon the techniques you would normally use to sell a product to a client can work to your advantage, especially when they involve interpersonal skills.
However, this doesn’t mean that the same techniques will work with everyone. In the end, it comes down to reading the room and being a good judge of character.
“My first sales mentor told me I was too girly,” Poole recalled. “But she was so wrong, my style is to be casual, chit chat, get to know people, ask about their family, their passions, their fears and worries, and for me it works.”
“What do you look for in a friend, in a partner?” she asked. “Someone who shows interest in you, someone who is genuine, someone who listens to you.”
For Poole, this is the most important part of networking. And to stress exactly how important following up is, she draws parallels to dating.
“You meet someone in a bar and take their number, do you just never follow up if you want to see them again? No way.”
While incubators and accelerators are great facilitators of bringing industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors together for them to meet and make connections, these relationships left unsustained are ultimately lost.
How you decide to follow-up with your contacts is up to you.
Pre-lockdown, this could be done in person. Going out for drinks, dinner, to play sports.
The most important thing, stresses Poole, is getting to know your connection better and understanding what makes them tick.
“I usually don’t bring up work if they don’t, and the best way to talk next steps is to close the night by setting a new meeting to talk business only after being a good host,” she said.
But until we can all socialise in-person again, social media platforms — such as LinkedIn and Twitter — are just as useful for following-up on relationships and keeping them alive online.
It’s safe to say that making the right connections, sustaining them and then using them to your advantage can make or break a startup, which stresses the importance of networking for startups overall.
And, by thinking of networking as a mindset rather than simply another item to check off your to-do list, it automatically becomes easier to tackle.
Not only is this approach to networking more effective, but it is also more realistic, given the current state of the startup ecosystem.
With entrepreneurs working remotely and opportunities to meet in-person few and far between, the networking mindset is more likely to become a permanent part of a startup business model, which can only work to startups’ advantage.