Connecting creatives: networking tips for young entrepreneurs
Whether you’re still a student or a recent graduate, starting your own business can be a daunting task: that is, if you don’t fully understand the benefits of what is commonly known as ‘networking’. It’s probably the most effective, low-cost method of promoting your business: so definitely is not something to be sniffed at.
Although introducing yourself to people you don’t know seems to be most people’s idea of hell, you’ve just got to get yourself out there. Don’t worry though, these tips and suggestions will help guide you, and put you in the best possible platform position to get started. You’ll become a natural in no time.
Events: actually go to them
This one may seem obvious, but it’s also perhaps the most important. Try to go to any event that relates to your business. In these situations you will be surrounded by industry experts, potential rivals, and other enthusiasts. It will be your job here to get up and go talk to these people. As I said this in itself can a hard task, especially if you’re a bit of an introvert, but it is absolutely crucial you gain as much knowledge as you can in every sector that relates to your business. Talking to these people will not only create potential contacts, but also creates an opportunity to learn.
Events: elevator pitches
The ‘elevator pitch’ was created for networking events. It’s basically a short conversation where you outline the benefits of your business in a short space of time: one that might be as long as it takes for an elevator to travel from one floor to another. Here’s a good little formula to follow and perfect your elevator pitch:
- Research the event and its key participants. A lot.
- Know who you are going to talk to before you go
- Know exactly what you want to say to them: specifically, how your business can benefit them, or how you can improve it
- Locate those important people at the event
- Weigh in on the conversation they will undoubtedly be having with someone else with a witty or insightful comment
- Mention your business, pitch them your ideas, and be honest about what you’re able to achieve
- Keep it short to leave them wanting more (and not to come on too strong!)
- Firm handshake, and leave your business card (but only if they ask for it, or if you’ve spoken for a good while!)
It is so important to know your audience. Andy Lopata, an expert and author on networking strategy, mentioned in an interview with The Guardian that you should ‘Break the ice by finding something you’ve got in common. Ask them about the event. Has their company been put up for an award?’ He also mentions however that common icebreakers such as ‘What do you do?’ can be a massive no, as they can kill conversations just as well as starting them.
This is where your research will come into play. You should know something about that particular person, so you can strike up a meaningful conversation rather than just awkward small talk. Be assertive and authoritative, mention something they organised or created, and ask a question on it (perhaps your business could be of use to them?). Sound like you actually know what you are talking about, and they will remember you.
It will undoubtedly be quite hard to grab the attention of someone you really admire at a networking event, especially if you are yet to start up your business or are still a student. You have to grasp the opportunity when you can, even if it is only for around 30 seconds. Make every second count.
Networking through social media
This is undoubtedly the easiest option. At home you can plan to the tiniest detail without having the pressure to appear likeable in person. However, you’ll need to double your efforts here: the rise of social media has given modern generations a networking tool that actually negates the need for face-to-face meetings. This isn’t to say though that you should completely throw it out the window.
In fact, this type of networking should be secondary to face to face, and be used as a follow up, or conversation tool. By following a particular person or company who you feel can help you on social media, it’s worthwhile to actively engage in whatever they are currently talking about. After raising the subject at the event, interacting online creates a common connection that can lead into your elevator pitch.
After creating a lead, or contact at an event, you can further that connection through LinkedIn, for example. Maybe send them a tweet on how good it was to meet them, and that you hope to talk further, or send along a LinkedIn inbox message saying that it was great to meet, and would be good to meet further. The whole point of social media for a young entrepreneur is to solidify connections, and hopefully engage in wider dialogue relating to their field.
Social media can also help you to reconnect with people, so don’t be afraid to widen your social circle by following past acquaintances who may be of use to you, such as university alumni. Exploit absolutely every possible avenue you can.
What not to do at events
For everything you can do right, there are plenty of things that can trip you up, too. Plenty of these are common sense but you would be surprised how many people forget the simple things! Your goal is to create an impression that is worth somebody else’s time, so here is a list of things that you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t forget manners: you should always be polite and charming.
- Don’t linger around: you could give off totally the wrong impression.
- Don’t get drunk: you are there to make contacts.
- Don’t offer your business card unless it is asked for, or unless you’ve spoken for a considerable amount of time.
After meticulously planning your networking strategy, you should be in a good place to actually get going and kick on. So if you want more information on starting a business check out our help centre.