Networking is a challenge similar to sales for many aspiring entrepreneurs. It doesnt come naturally to many people. Its difficult and uncomfortable to introduce yourself to someone you dont know and start a conversation.
Networking is the process of meeting people who may not know your business or who may be able to help your business in some way.
In a business setting the entrepreneur has a plus in his favor, namely, he either has an ongoing business or has developed a business proposition, consequently he is knowledgeable and can talk about what he knows. Its pretty easy to ask the starter question of what do you do for a living? and then to be able to respond in kind. When telling someone what you do, be specific but brief. Look professional and always carry your business card. After all, who knows where or when youll meet a fantastic contact? One bit of preparation will be helpful, and that is having a two-minute elevator pitch.
Trade associations are great places to network and build your knowledge of your industry. When you attend their gatherings, set a goal for the number of people youll meet. Dont try to close a deal. These events are not places to hit on business people to buy your products or services.
Chambers of commerce sponsor many events for their membership. Consider a trial membership and attend the meetings and open houses. Many sponsor young professionals groups. Publications including Business Insider include a calendar of many professional and business specific events.
Networking is about developing relationships with other professionals. Meeting people at events is just the beginning of that process. Offer referrals whenever possible. The best networkers believe in the givers gain philosophy: If I help you, youll help me and we both gain.
Manage your time efficiently. Spend 10 minutes or less with each person you meet, and dont linger with friends or associates. When you meet someone interesting with whom youd like to speak further, set up an appointment for a later date.
Write notes on the backs of business cards you collect that may be useful in remembering each person more clearly.
Follow up. You can do all of the above religiously, but if you don't follow up effectively, you will have wasted your time.
There are many organizations in the Treasure Valley that sponsor networking events. Several with which I am familiar are:
The Idaho Technology Council: www.idahotechcouncil.org
Girls in Tech: www.girlsintech.org
Startup Weekend Idaho: www.idaho.startupweekend.org
Treasure Valley user groups, including Boise Web Technologies Meetup Group, Boise.Net User Group, Boise Software Developers Group and Idaho PC Users Group.
Local chapters of national associations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
With the right approach, you can use networking to build a wealth of resources and contacts that will help your business succeed.