Without a doubt, time is the trickiest element for startup founders to manage—especially when riding that fine line between sales and socializing (i.e. networking). With this post let’s examine a strategic approach to entrepreneurs networking skills that’ll help you focus on the big picture of entrepreneurship as you navigate after-hours events that often blur the line between work and play.
As an entrepreneur you need to strike a healthy balance between work and personal time; however, be advised that the former will likely outweigh the latter. As your startup gains traction you’ll find yourself constantly solving for short supplies of money and hard-working people on your side. So much to do, and hardly enough time to get it all done!
Taking A Break From Operations To Network
In order to get a business off the ground you need a unique value proposition, solid execution, and most importantly…sales! What’s more, in the early stages of your startup, you as the entrepreneur are the most qualified to be translating value proposition into money in the bank. But how can you possibly handle sales when there’s so much else to do on the operations front?
No worries! Through regular networking not only can you combine selling with learning best practices for optimizing operations, you’ll also:
- Better understand your industry
- Meet and learn from thought leaders
- Develop strategic partnerships
- Qualify vendors of necessary products/services
But before any of this can happen you need to focus on the problem you’re aiming to solve and understand how it relates to a real opportunity—or in other words: You should be able to clearly articulate your value proposition. Without a focused idea behind why you’re out meeting new people you’re just developing your social skills.
There’s More To It Than Happy Hour
Entrepreneurship-themed events are the best for meeting opportunity-driven folks interested in building things. Attend as many of these as you can. You’ll likely notice a handful of regulars. Make friends with them as they’re usually pretty well connected and could present synergies down the road. Through engaging these folks in focused and thoughtful conversations about what your startup is trying to accomplish, at the very least you’ll obtain residual value from:
- Getting feedback on new ideas
- Having others question your assumptions
- Considering different perspectives
- Learning from others’ experiences (good and bad)
Always maintain a positive manner and be respectful as you get to know the community around you. Of course you want to learn as much as you can about the market you aim to serve—just make sure you’re genuine and sincere as you get to know the people that comprise it. Stay focused, and remember: Pitch your product—not yourself.
Inside Versus Outside Marketing
While it’s important to get the most you can out of networking don’t forget that operationalizing your internal marketing initiatives is just as important. While getting a feel for the market you aim to serve don’t drop the ball on such items as product development, traditional market research, and account management. Refer to some of our other posts for best practices in these areas.
In closing, here are some helpful tips that I’ve seen work for entrepreneurs after being involved in the IT event space for many years:
- Secure speaking engagements. You’ll get in front of crowds and be memorable.
- Pitch—don’t sell. Have your “elevator pitch” on the tip of your tongue—just in case.
- Plan your route to success. Remember, events are just marketing opportunities along the way.
- Don’t sign up for every event. Choose wisely and give preference to highly specialized events that map directly to your target market.
- Do your homework before events. Research the speakers, sponsors, and list of attendees.
- Before attending an event, develop a plan of attack. Identify in advance exactly whom you want to meet and what you’re going to talk about.
Oh yeah, and lastly: Hustle! Hustle! Hustle!