Guest Post by Dr. Isaiah Hankel
Let’s face it—your network, in any profession, is your most valuable asset. For entrepreneurs, however, this asset is the most essential building block in establishing a successful business.
An entrepreneur with a strong network makes more connections within his or her own industry and becomes visible to a considerably wider and more attentive audience. The chances of creating lucrative partnerships for a startup increase exponentially with a well-developed network of people within the same industry.
Not everyone you meet will be a direct source of income, but do not dismiss them. They may end up being a great source of information, fresh ideas, and business savvy. You may even gain a mentor.
Successful entrepreneurs make their networks work for them, not the other way around. The following cardinal rules will help you bypass common networking mistakes so you can make your network work for you.
1. Make an appearance, make an impression.
More than ever before, face-to-face connections are essential to building a strong, lucrative network. As our dependency on our smart phones, tablets, and laptops grows, we tend to forget or simply ignore the power of personal contact. People you meet in person are much more likely to remember you and your business than they would be by receiving a faceless email lost among the many others they receive daily.
Even though some of them have hefty membership fees, Chamber of Commerce events around the globe are a great place to create and build partnerships as well as network with potential, big business, long-term customers. It is also wise to keep up-to-date with and to attend trade shows, conferences, seminars and local events in your area.
It isn’t enough to simply show up, however. You must be willing to introduce yourself and to pitch your business at these meetings or events. Many membership organizations are always looking for volunteer speakers, especially from startup companies, who are willing to vamp about their business within an industry context. This is an effective and efficient way to reach as many people as possible.
2. Make social media work for you.
If you haven’t already, create social network accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep all these accounts active and updated. A lot of companies today, if not most, use these networks to find their next business partner of vendor.
It is important to also remember to remain professional on your social accounts. Never post a comment or allow comments to be posted on your sites, which might be considered unprofessional or offensive.
That being said, don’t be scared to express how you really feel. Be authentic and transparent about questions and concerns that you’re customers have. Never hide things and never be fake—doing so will always come back to bite you and your business where it hurts most.
3. Avoid typical startup pitfalls and mistakes with the help of experts
Dig into the wealth of material online reviewing the rise and fall of successful startups in the past. Don’t just read blog articles with cute stories about increasing Facebook friend requests. Instead, act like the businessman or businesswoman you are, and study businesses. If you don’t learn from the past, you’ll never create a successful future.
You can also explore the ample resources at your finger tips now. Use the experts at your school, and leverage the time you have there. You should also find mentors outside of school and aim to build long-term relationships with them.
4. Perfect your “escalator pitch.”
Never underestimate the power of a one-minute conversation with someone. This is known in the business world as the “elevator pitch”. Things move so fast nowadays that some people have started calling this an “escalator pitch.”
Your “escalator pitch” might be your one and only opportunity to speak with someone who can positively impact your startup.
Your pitch should always include the following five elements to maximize effectiveness:
- What is your company?
- What does your company do?
- Who is your target market?
- Why do your customers want or need your product or service?
- What makes your company unique?
Practice your pitch until you can recite it in your sleep. The key is to know what you do so well that you can slip it into any conversation without being annoying. When it comes to pitching yourself, be quick and be interesting. Use punchy words that trigger big images. Be original. And remember, you may never get this same chance again.
5. Get referrals, exchange contacts, and build partnerships
Meeting new people equals free marketing for your startup. Every single person you meet has an arsenal of contacts and possible referrals to help you on your way. Take every opportunity to communicate your business ideas or to explore possible partnerships with other entrepreneurs.
Never pass up the opportunity to make your business greater, more stable or more financially viable with the help and expertise of another able and willing person. Don’t make the mistake of seeing everyone as a competitor. Instead, see everyone as an affiliate. Find ways to collaborate, not just compete.
About Dr. Isaiah Hankel
Isaiah Hankel is the author of Black Hole Focus (Wiley 2014), a business coach and international speaker. He helps individuals, teams and organizations develop a more entrepreneurial mind-set to accelerate their career success.
Isaiah has worked with some of the world’s leading corporations, including Amgen, Celgene, Bio-Rad Laboratories, BD Biosciences, Baxter Bioscience, Pfizer, Roche, and Genentech. He has also presented at many of the world’s premier academic institutions, including Harvard University, Stanford University, Oxford University, Cambridge University, The Pasteur Institute, and The Curie Institute, to name a few.