Why is networking important?
I’ve been working with startups for almost three years and I came to realise that it is really important to know a lot of people. Granovetter explains this idea more fully in his essay, The Strength of Weak Ties. To put it simply: having access to a larger, more diverse network, makes it easier to deliver/receive information. An individual with a large number of connections will have easier access to resources, a greater chance of hearing about job openings, finding mentors or raising money for their business.
Why is social media networking not enough?
One might ask why social networking is not enough. For businesses, it definitely allows you to connect with your customers or with other brands, and hence grow your business. On a individual level it helps build your own profile. But the amount of trust is partially decreased via social media. Meeting someone in person, even for a couple of minutes, is more ‘human’ and personal. It makes you more credible to the extent that you're ‘touchable’. Some individuals, such as investors, are unlikely to respond to you over social media. Attending real world events is a more effective way to connect with them, due to the added element of trust that comes from face-to-face interactions.
What mindset should you approach a networking situation with?
There are many articles on how to approach networking. At its core, networking is a means of building relationships for your business. In time, some of these may become friendships. ‘Explore’ should be the word you have in mind when going to different events. Go to as many as possible at the beginning to understand which are the most relevant to you. Also make sure you know what you are trying to achieve with your networking. This is so that you can make an effective use of your time and not get burnt out. Ensure that you are always prepared to offer your help to others first, rather than just asking for it.
So how you do it?
There’s definitely no recipe for how to do it but enriching your emotional intelligence will make the process easier. Always make sure you’re not being fake. Starting conversations is never easy. Try to find someone that’s not already fully engaged in a conversation, put a smile on your face and introduce yourself. And then it just goes naturally. What they’re doing, what you’re doing, why are they attending this event and so on. Read that back again! Yes, what they’re doing is more important than starting with your business because it shows that you care about the other person. Find out what they love doing, what their biggest challenge is and most importantly, what you can do to help.
Make sure you get their contact details and send a follow up email/ connect on Linkedin. Following up is always important, even if you only say “It was nice to meet you at X event. Let’s keep in touch!” You may reach out to them in the future to ask for an introduction or information.
If you bump into someone you really wanted to speak to, don’t make it awkward by using scripts! Take Matt Buckland’s (Head of Talent at Forward Partners) advice on it: “I think a lot of people who have a prepared conversation in their heads get flustered quickly if they veer off track”.
If you’re asking me, it should all come naturally. There are just three things you should have in mind: it’s all about building meaningful relationships, knowing your final goal and always being ready to help first. With that in mind you can’t make mistakes. Or maybe you can. But you’ll get to learn and get better.