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Ins and outs of networking: how to strike up useful acquaintances

Friday, September 3, 2021

All information about what networking is and what it gives, how to build it and where to practice it.

Startup Jedi

We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.

Startuppers got used to the fact that you have to work a lot, figure out almost everything considering business development, find like-minded professionals — all these sound like a daunting task to accomplish. But it’s easier than it sounds! It appears that there is a completely free but effective way that can simplify the entrepreneur's work. Guessed already, huh? Of course, we’re talking about networking. After you read about its pros and cons, I bet you will make it a habit to strike up at least one professional contact a month.

What is networking

Networking is the formation of a personal network of business connections. In practice, it looks like this: people with common professional interests get to know each other (both in real life and online), and usually, exchange news and opinions and, what is more important, keep in touch in the future. 

Networking is used to broaden your business environment in general. Specifically, by communicating with people from your professional environment, you will be aware of all the news and will be able to find solutions to various business questions, such as finding a new specialist or new partners, investors, receiving feedback, consultations or organising meetings with important people.

There are professional networking platforms for business communication, that offer people possibilities to efficiently communicate with other experts in person, unite in the interest groups, organize events, keep blogs and exchange information. The largest and most famous platform is LinkedIn, but you can also develop your network by using invitly, LunchMeet, Random Coffee, Uniter, Up&Out and other similar platforms.

Such platforms are a possibility to post your CV and communicate with potential specialists, whom you can invite to your team. The ground rule for effective platform usage is to keep your account updated and, of course, to be an active user. By the way, many entrepreneurs organize client flow in the b2b segment exclusively through the company's profile on social network/networks.

Why do you need networking

If we generalize, the creation of a network of business contacts looks like this:

  1. The possibility to receive new ideas and knowledge. Every entrepreneur knows that success in business and in a career depends on knowing the sphere you’re working in and its tendencies. Usually, the network is always helping to exchange ideas and accumulate new knowledge. It is especially relevant in the sphere of IT-technologies since innovations are a common thing there.

  2. The possibility to become famous and create a brand. The people who strive to become recognizable and popular are actively communicating. When your experience and expertise are known in professional circles, it creates a space for partnership and cooperation, helps to organize new projects and collaborations.

  3. New business and career perspectives. When people start to recognize you, this is an open door to new possibilities. The established business links with the right people will help you to solve many problems and find new ways for development, and all these help to change life for the better. 

  4. Improving professional intelligence. Effective communication with a professional will help improve the product, find new promotion opportunities, take a different look at the problem that prevents the business from developing, and solve it.

  5. Access to the business “library”. Networking platforms and social networks allow sharing professional information: links to useful books and video courses, articles, podcasts. Try to develop a daily habit to monitor news from professionals and communities in the field of interest and improve your personal skills.

  6. Gaining status. Many entrepreneurs became successful thanks to their networking. New contacts give new possibilities, the main task is to use them efficiently.

  7. Gaining self-confidence. Networking helps to learn how to communicate, how to gain self-confidence and eventually it influences your approach to self- and business presentation, attracts partners, investors, and clients.

How networking works

Networking has its origins in the theory of six handshakes, put forward in the late 60s of the last century. According to it, each person can contact any other inhabitant of the planet through an average of five to six mutual acquaintances.

The main rule of effectively building a network of professional contacts is an acquaintance and maintaining contacts, which will eventually help to solve several serious issues, such as finding specialists for the team, experts for consultations, finding partners and checking their business reputation, organizing events.

For example, a novice entrepreneur is often faced with the fact that he cannot find a person to join a team for his business project through employee search services. This is relevant when you need a specialist with a certain background, rare expertise, a wide range of skills, and a special approach. Personal connections and recommendations of friends will be able to resolve this issue. And looking for a partner through the network is even easier.

Networking principles

1. Mutual profit creates strong connections: communication and cooperation have to be in a win-win format, so it is effective both for you and for the person you’re communicating with. Usually, you can be useful to each other by giving mutual recommendations, sharing insights, services, and giving advice. 

Usually, there are three types of networking:

The first type — positive networking, when you’re trying to help somebody in the first place, and then you think about your needs. The adherents of this method are venture investors who gather a community of entrepreneurs around themselves — they help them develop to get good projects for the portfolio.

The second type — negative networking, when you strive to get what you need in the first place and you cooperate only with those who are useful for you right now.

The third type — mixed networking, which combines features of two previous methods. 

2. Give more than you get. They say that when it comes to networking, karma really works. Anyway, do not hesitate to ask for help from those whom you have already helped.

3. Being active is better than being inactive. Try to be proactive and don’t expect that people will be trying to meet you or that event organizers will want to put you in touch with the right experts. Do not leave the development of your network to chance, the most effective way to upgrade it is to come forward and get acquainted, offer your services, ask questions. 

4. Quality over quantity. Do not disappear, maintain your important connections: sometimes it is enough to say congrats on somebody’s birthday or on a new milestone in business development. A small network of contacts with strong connections is much more effective than a huge network where relationships are not maintained. 

5. People make friends with people who are easy to be friends with. Try to leave a nice impression on yourself, do not overload people with your problems.
 

Where do you practice networking

There are no special rules on how and where to practice networking. The classic approach means that the most effective way to develop your network is by taking part in conferences (both offline and online), seminars, workshops, and other events where you can meet people from your and similar fields. However, what if you are an introvert and making new acquaintances is already difficult, and you get completely lost in the crowd of hundreds of conference participants?

In fact, you don't have to buy tickets to expensive conferences to start a focused work on creating a professional environment. A possible exception is if at the conference, there will be a person who is important for your business and you are sure that you will be able to meet him and make an impression. But in general, you can try to apply the theory of six handshakes in practice.

Networking can be developed: 

  • On social networks, both professional and usual. This is the simplest way and technique of networking, we all have some experience here. All you need to do is fill out your profile, post professional photos that bill you as a business person, join communities/groups related to your field of interest and be active there. Gradually you will get to know the right people and the main thing is to keep your contacts “warm”.

  • In thematic chats — join them, comment and help others, so you will form an image of an expert. Observe what expertise other participants have and seek help if necessary. 

  •  On specialized platforms for crowdfunding and crowdinvesting (for example, AngelList, Crowdfunder, EquityNet), investment (various investor clubs in the regions, entrepreneurial communities), product development (Product Hunt), technologies: create your profile there and try to fill it as much as possible, follow your fields of interest and get to know other participants.  

  • At online conferences, seminars, workshops. If the platform allows, fill in your profile as detailed as possible, if not, follow the presentations, ask questions, leave feedback.

  • At themed events. Try not only to exchange business cards or subscribe to the profiles of people you are interested in but also try to get to know them as closely as possible — what are their hobbies, do they have a family or where they used to work.

  • On forums and social services such as Reddit, Quora, YandexQ. Answer questions related to your professional field and follow bloggers in your segment. Who knows, perhaps one of them is the very person who will help you find a solution to your business problem.

In general, the development of the network can be organized anywhere: even in a queue in a store or in an elevator, the main thing is not to be shy, because people are more sociable than it seems at first glance. Many people build effective business communication with graduates of their university, with the parishioners of the church they go to, with people who have a common hobby with them, even with neighbours on the block.
 

Advises on networking

Here, we have collected a list of advice for effective business communication:

  1. Introduce yourself briefly but meaningfully. Every entrepreneur knows how valuable time is, so the main rule here is to try to fit a self-presentation into no more than 20 seconds. This is enough to tell what is your name, what company you represent, what field you are an expert in and what are you interested in. Ideally, if your presentation ends with a question to the interlocutor. For example, ask for what purpose he came to this event or what interests him within the framework of the meeting.

  2. Aim high and be better than others. This is long-term advice, but it will help you ultimately create a positive personal brand as an expert entrepreneur in a specific field. You will not become a super expert in a week, but during this time you may get acquainted with people who can help you pump your expertise, even if only on social networks

  3. Plan your network according to your goals. It is best to develop and follow a strategic plan to develop your network of professional contacts.

  4. Help others and they will help you too. This is a ground rule of networking, try not to ask new acquaintances for anything until you do them some favour.

  5. Be honest and decent. It's no secret that in almost any community a lie will come out sooner or later, and then, usually, there will be nothing left of entrepreneurial reputation, no matter how good it was.

  6. Be consistent and grateful. Keep in touch with new acquaintances, keep your promises, keep shared secrets and be grateful for any help you received.

  7. Be positive. This is an informal rule: smile and try to communicate in an easy, pleasant way for all interlocutors. So eventually, you will win people’s favour to communicate with you and keep the flow of the conversation.

  8. Stay focused on communication and be ready for new contacts. Do not get distracted by your phone and other gadgets if you are communicating with another person. If you feel that you are not interested in the conversation, end it politely.

Common mistakes in building networking

The consequences of mistakes during business communication can be very unpleasant - from refusal to cooperate to a ruined image. Here is a list of the most common mistakes:

  1. Impreparation — from ignorance of trends and the latest news in your field to an unpresentable appearance and an empty profile on social networks. When building a network of business contacts, try to look perfect all the time, keep your profile on social networks up to date, especially in professional ones, and be aware of developments in your field.

  2. Intrusiveness. Don't use the event for intrusive self-promotion. At the very least, try to make it as less striking as possible.

  3. Striving to add as many new contacts as possible to your social media profile. You need to aim to build strong connections, know what you want from your professional network, and stick to a strategic plan for the development of the network. It is important to create a circle of people where there is an understanding of how you can be useful to each other now or in the future. 

  4. Ignoring. Each person has its own value, in no case should you speak disparagingly about someone or deliberately ignore people. Treat everyone you meet as if that person could change your life. 

  5. Inability to ask for help. Many people mistakenly believe that asking for advice or meeting a helpful person will make them look weaker and belittled in front of the interlocutor. This is beyond any rules of business communication because requests and mutual services are at the core of networking: otherwise, it simply does not work. 

  6. Excessive enthusiasm for the smartphone. Some people think that checking messages, scrolling through the menu resembles them as business and busy people, and in general plays a plus for their image. Others are on the phone because they don't know whom to approach and just create the illusion of being busy. In fact, this behaviour only demonstrates inaccessibility and even disrespect. 

  7. Inability to keep in touch after meeting and disorganization. If while meeting someone, you promised something, like to share useful materials, make an appointment, call, then do it within 24 hours. During the conversation, try to leave as many leads as possible, through which you could unobtrusively contact the person you are interested in. 

  8. Ingratitude. With every new acquaintance, it is important to remember that no one owes anything to anyone. Do not ask new acquaintances for services that you know you can ask for from friends or long-term colleagues. At the same time, try to be grateful for any help or advice you get.

 

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