Everyone has heard the phrase: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
While this saying will always hold merit, the concept of networking is different today than it was 20 to 30 years ago. With the help of the internet and social media, we are more connected than ever and able to efficiently interact with massive numbers of people.
As an entrepreneur, you may find the early stages of networking incredibly difficult. The name of the game is identifying the right people to get acquainted with and then talking with them with a healthy dose of assertiveness about relevant subjects .
Here are four tips to keep in mind when building your network from the ground up.
1. Start by listening.
Just as happens with any business venture, yours will find that success depends heavily on planning. When you're looking to network with potential customers or other businesses, you need to be up to speed on the goals and concerns you share.
Knowledge is power. Learning what issues matter to the people you want to form relationships with is crucial for planning your approach. Regardless of whether you're meeting potential clients/partners at an in-person event, or online, you need a firm understanding of relevant topics to make a good impression. Prepare talking points beforehand.
For example, say you are marketer attending a mixer for startups. You'll want to go into the event knowing exactly what the relevant issues are and how you can help. As an example, the problem might be search engine rankings resulting from a major Google algorithm update. This could be a huge topic of interest and an opportunity for you to showcase your expertise.
Social media is a great resource to get a feel for common obstacles businesses in your category face. Using tools like Mention, you can keep tabs on certain brands, keywords or entire industries to learn what is trending. From there, you can glean the proper insights to come up with the answers people are looking for.
2. Get involved.
One of the most fascinating things about the business world is that valuable connections can form just about anywhere. It’s only a matter of getting out there. The best way to do this is by immersing yourself in groups that play to your, or your prospective contacts’, interests.
Become active in different groups or organizations and contribute valuable material. This will show that you truly have wisdom to offer, even as you build an extensive network. The internet has made this process easier than ever. Why not take advantage of it?
Apps like TagFi are great for finding social groups you can relate to and add value. The app enables you to meet up with like-minded individuals and bond over shared interests. From leisure activities to business endeavors, you can find clever ways to engrain yourself in all sorts of communities.
3. Make meaningful small talk.
The value of small talk is an underrated factor in networking. Generally defined as conversation about topics that are not of great importance, small talk can do wonders to create rapport.
“Small talk cannot be dismissed as peripheral, marginal or minor discourse. Small talk is a means by which we negotiate interpersonal relationships. This is a crucial function with significant implications for ongoing and future interactions,” said Justine Coupland, an expert on sociolinguistics and author of Small Talk.
Whether it’s personal or professional, small talk can serve as a bookend for comings and goings while allowing smoother transitions between roles. Aside from simplistic icebreakers like: “How is your family?” or “Nice weather we’re having,” the trick is finding topics outside of professional talk that lead to meaningful conversations.
Depending on your network and location, a great place to start is with sports. For example, say you are looking to do business in Chicago and are meeting with potential partners or clients. Starting a conversation about the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls or Blackhawks will likely result in some casual, quality small talk.
However, if you choose to go this route, you must be well educated on the topics to start a conversation. Chances are, if you run into a die-hard local fan, they can talk for hours about that person's favorite team. Do your research! Apps like Kroo Sports allow you to select any professional sports organization and stay up-to-date on all related news.
Small talk is all about forming friendships. Before talking business, be relatable on a personal level.
4. Stay in touch.
Networking events tend to have a strong energy, causing people to get wrapped up in the moment. After the event, it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget whom you spoke with. It’s important to realize that the goal of these mixers is to build long-lasting professional relationships.
Do your best to get connected as soon as possible. Send a LinkedIn request or email letting people know you enjoyed their company. Try to personalize the message. Include a small tidbit from your conversation. This is simply a way to add professional contacts and a means of further correspondence.
Make frequent efforts to keep in touch. Even something as simple as forwarding a relevant article shows you have a sincere interest in maintaining contact. Social media makes this process easy. Use it to your advantage.