How to Network Like a Boss

You’ve probably heard that there are only six degrees of separation between you and anyone else on the planet. When it comes to your startup, it’s vital to make connections and regardless of how many people it takes to get you to the right person, no one is too far removed. If you enjoy networking and connecting, it can even be enjoyable to facilitate those connections. However, not everyone has stellar networking skills right off the bat. Becoming a better networker is critical to your startup, and it could even be the key to your startup’s success. But how can you mingle and network like a boss?

One afternoon I was standing at Venetia in Palo Alto enjoying a post-lunch espresso as I often use to do. The bar was pretty quiet, but there was another man there that was standing at the bar sipping his cappuccino. We struck up a conversation, and the typical small talk question of “What do you do?” popped up. He told me that he was creating an AI tool for parents to come up with suggestions based on their kids’ moods, preferences, and behaviors.

At the end of his description, we continued to talk, and he asked me more about myself and showed a genuine interest. We traded business cards at the end, and he made it a point to send an email that same day letting me know that he enjoyed our conversation. I was impressed with both his startup and his networking skills, and – to make a long story short – I ended up investing as an angel investor. Of course, he was in the right place at the right time, but had it not been for his networking skills and willingness to put himself out there, I would not have invested in his startup.


The coffee meetings

You can ease your way into networking by starting with coffee meetings. If you commit to one meeting a week over the course of a year, you’ll have 50 meetings. Here are some tips to take into those meetings:

  • Meet with level-appropriate contacts. Don’t try to go too high up the ladder with a simple coffee meeting.

  • Make the meetings short. For example, a 30 minute meeting before work is appropriate. Whenever the meeting is, make sure it’s when it works best for your contact.

  • Always send a thank you email. It makes a big impact, and people respond well to the positive feedback.

  • However, don’t overdo it with emails. At this point, you’re just acquaintances.

  • At the end of the 50 meetings, you’ll likely have five permanent contacts.

Startup networking mistakes to avoid

If it’s your first go around with networking, you’re likely to make some mistakes. Here are some mistakes you can avoid on your path to networking success.

  • Don’t rely just on virtual connections. The fact is, 85 percent of business people prefer face-to-face, so you’re much more likely to make vital connections in person. As a startup, you have no name recognition and nothing to build on, so it really is all about who you know.

  • Don’t allow nerves to keep you from putting yourself out there. Many entrepreneurs fail to network strictly because they feel nervous about it and don’t think that people want to get to know them. Sure, you might get rejected a few times, but the connections you do make from putting yourself out there could be vital to your startup’s success.

  • Don’t rely on short bursts of networking. It’s a big mistake thinking the few business conferences you attend to establish your company is enough. However, networking is a constant, and you shouldn’t stop doing it.

Utilize your current contacts

Networking doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and actively pursue new relationships right away. Instead, start with cultivating and investing in the relationships you already have. There is a lot of power in the contacts of your contacts

Consider networking like a puzzle. As you piece the puzzle together, you might have gaps that need to be filled. Take a look at your current resources and see how you can use them to fill that gap.

You never know when you’ll need someone to help connect you. However, it’s not a good practice to ask someone to do something for you when you haven’t spoken with them in a while. In order to avoid this awkward situation, make it a point to keep in touch with your contacts.

Create “reconnect” files in your calendar to stay organized by establishing lists of people you are connected to and need to keep in touch with on a monthly rotation. Designate contacts that have obvious networking potential, and connect with them on a monthly basis.

Connecting is as easy as  sharing interesting articles. When you don’t lose touch with your contacts, it’s easier going to them with a networking request.

LinkedIn is a great tool to use to make virtual connections. Find your existing contacts on the platform and link to them. Then, take a look at their contacts to see if they have any networking opportunities that could help you. If you see someone, ask for an introduction.

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How to be a good contact

Networking isn’t all about taking; you need to give a little without expecting something in return. It’s obvious if you’re only focused on your own gain, but it’s also obvious if you’re being genuine, so follow these tips to make yourself a contact people want to have:

  • Don’t focus solely on your end goal while networking. You’ll come across as awkward or insincere. Focus on being yourself to avoid any awkwardness. A good place to start is simply by making eye contact and smiling while you interact with others.

  • Don’t do all of the talking. People love to talk about themselves, and the easiest way to get the ball rolling while networking is to ask thoughtful questions and show a genuine interest in the answers. You can use your questions to guide the conversation without making it all about you.

  • Pay attention. Don’t leave the conversation and realize you have no idea what the other person said. Maintain attention by wiggling your toes. This action shifts the awareness back to your body and what you are doing, which allows you to become a better listener.

  • Remember things that are important to your contacts. If something would be important to you, it’s likely to be important to them. Get in touch with your contact if they have a big meeting or proposal, wish them luck beforehand, and ask them how it went after.

  • Ask your contacts what they need. Connect them with someone you know and trust to meet that need. When you bring something valuable to the table, it allows you to do a favor before asking for one. Share what you have to offer without expectations.

  • Approach networking events with the right mindset. It’s easy to go into the event thinking about how everyone else can benefit your startup. The right mindset is the total opposite. Think about how you can help others, and people are more likely to open up to you.

  • Networking events aren’t the place to be fashionably late. Show up early, and you won’t have to fight the crowds or interrupt people to start a conversation. You also won’t catch networkers at the end of the event when they are feeling tired and ready to leave.

  • Take advantage of social media before networking events. Use photos to help you put names to faces and take a look at resumes and portfolios to give you some talking points. Once the event is over, get back on social media and connect with your new contacts.

  • Nurture your new network. Now that you have a nice stack of business cards, new connections, and maybe even a coffee date or two set up, check in with them regularly, send them holiday cards, and make sure your name stays familiar to them.

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Networking on social media

Face-to-face networking is vital, but social media networking is still useful. It’s a great tool to use to open the door to hundreds of new contacts, but social media sites should be used wisely. Check out these tips for networking on social media:

  • Understand the site’s culture before contacting potential networkers. While a casual email introduction is perfect for one site, it could peg you as socially awkward on another.

  • Connect with people on Twitter to make an easy, casual contact.

  • Don’t be too pushy trying to get into already-established groups. Being overly aggressive and insensitive to the individuals in the group is not only annoying, but it can also harm your own reputation and the reputation of your startup.

  • Be consistently active on social media. Read the blogs, get to know the services, and share the content of organizations and people you want to connect with.

  • Don’t start making social media pitches right away. Check to see what needs aren’t being met that you and your startup could fill for people and organizations, and craft your emails and introductions to those needs. Not only does this give you leverage, but it also shows that you’ve made an effort to get to know them.

  • Start by developing relationships. LinkedIn is a great place to find work, but don’t make that your first priority. Start with conversations and learning to show you have the right intentions.

  • Find common ground when looking for connections on social media. Hometown, alma mater, previous employers, similar interests, and volunteering experience are all points to reference with a prospective contact. You’ll have speaking points and an instant rapport with your new contacts.

  • Focus on your first- and second-degree connections. There is a mutual desire to connect at the first-degree level. Second-degree connections know your first-degree connection, so you have a direct introduction. Third-degree connections require multiple introductions, which can be difficult to organize since you might not have a mutual acquaintance.

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Three phases of online networking

Get a little boost in growing your online network by following these three phases:

1. Comment and retweet

Leave a short comment on blog posts from organizations and people you want to connect with. It can be as basic as saying, “Great post, I learned something new,” and retweeting the article to your Twitter.

2. Amp up phase one

Add some depth and meaning to your comments, and make your retweets appealing enough that other people want to check out the content. This will help you make more contacts, too.

3. Mention others

In your own content, start to mention other contacts just as much as you mention yourself. As you promote your contacts, your relationship with them grows, and everybody gains from it.

The takeaway

While you might go into networking for your startup with the mindset that you’re doing it for your own gain, you’ll quickly realize that networking is largely dependent on the give and take. Just like any personal relationship, your networking connections are all about creating value for each other. As you learn to give to others and focus on them, you’ll find that your connections will give back to you.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Jeremy Webb

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Jeremy WebbHow to Network Like a Boss

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