“It’s not who you know that matters—it’s who knows you that’s important. Personal branding builds up your reputation to the point where you have a presence even in your absence.” Jarod Kintz, author of “This Book Is Not For Sale”
Every entrepreneur has heard a quote about the importance of knowing the right people. Growing a business is more than just having a great idea; to make that idea a success requires knowing people that believe in your mission. That’s where your network comes in.
A new startup and founders conference pops up weekly. Why? Because entrepreneurs understand the power of the network.
Your network can make or break your ability to raise funding. A lack of a network can put roadblocks on your path to success.
A well-built network is as essential to your success as a strategic business plan.
Why is a network so important?
Think of your network as the backbone of your company. When you have a problem, your network is a place you can turn to for advice or answers. When you’re ready to take your product to the next stage, that key contact can put you in touch with someone that moves you forward.
Essentially, there are three ways the connections you make help your growth.
- They can be an incredible tool to help you succeed
- Mentors can guide you in making the right business decisions
- Surrounding yourself with like-minded people motivates you to be better
Knowing how your connections can affect your company will help you make networking a crucial part of your growth strategy. So, how do you find a network that really makes an impact?
Find the right people
Networking isn’t easy. Identifying the right fit for your company and taking that first step to reaching out can be frustrating.
Isa Watson, the founder of Squad, made building her network a priority early on. At first, she was strategic about whom she was reaching out to, even using a spreadsheet to keep track of her communications.
“New to this kind of networking, I started out with a mechanical approach. I created a spreadsheet with all of my contacts and made note of every meeting — and way that I could follow up,” Winston said in an Entrepreneur.com article. “While this process initially helped motivate me to continue to reach out, the more I practiced and the more I talked to new people the easier it became to find an authentic rhythm with each connection.”
Eventually, networking became more natural to her. She soon learned that there are two types of contacts who are worthy of your attention.
These contacts can be classified as the Advocate and the Helper.
An advocate is someone who is there to support, guide, and help grow your business. From making introductions to backing your company financially, these are the influential stakeholders in your network.
Advocates are not people you lean on consistently, but when you need them, they’re there to help. They’ll keep a watchful eye on your success and tell other people about it.
They truly are your advocates, celebrating and contributing to your growth. If you’re networking right, they’ll be there every step of the way.
Helpers are the people you lean on for advice and emotional support. Entrepreneurship can be lonely. Small teams or a solo entrepreneur are hyper-focused on one goal day in and day out. Having an outside network of people to talk to can make a difference.
While helpers don’t have the financial or social connections to move your company forward, they provide something just as important — support. They’re there to listen, give advice, and be on your side when you’re not sure where to turn.
Helpers are much like friends (in some cases, your helpers might also be your friends). The same way you lean on friends through many of life’s ups and downs, you lean on your helpers when facing business goals and challenges.
So, how do you grow your network?
Now that you know the two types of people you need in your network, how do you find them?
We already mentioned the plethora of conferences available to entrepreneurs worldwide. It’s crucial to identify which events, meetups, and conferences align with your business. Search for options in your area. Pay attention to who is speaking on panels or which connections of yours have already RSVP’ed. If the businesses and companies going to an event align with your goals, join them there.
Scott Oldford, founder of INFINITUS, suggests going to one event a week.
“In 2015, I did that every single week and met eight new people at a group dinner,” Oldford said of his own goal. “Those dinners built an amazing network that contributed to nearly a million dollars in revenue—without spending a dime on ‘advertising.'”
Your presence at various events solidifies you as a player to watch in the community. Most importantly, though, it opens you and your company up to a world of new revenue streams, partnerships and opportunities.
Make the Ask
Already have some great contacts? Ask them for introductions to people you’ve been trying to meet. Chances are if you’ve built up trust and proven that you’re reliable, your connections are going to want to open up their Rolodex to you.
Networks can help you with other questions as well. Whether you have questions about funding, feedback, or partnerships — there’s no shame in tapping into your network for answers. It’s the best place for you to start.
Think of it this way, most of your network has been through, or are currently going through, exactly what you are. Generally, they’re excited about sharing their knowledge.
So, when in doubt. Ask.
You might already have a vast network of people around you. That doesn’t mean you should stop networking.
One event a year doesn’t cut it. Just like one sales email doesn’t usually result in a sale. What sells? Persistence.
Put yourself out there. Keep asking questions. Continue to send emails even when you don’t get a response.
The more people engage with you, the easier it is for them to get to know you, and that’s what helps grow relationships.
Become a Resource
Another way to engage with people is to become a resource. Answer questions for other people, respond to comments on Facebook and reply to inquiries on Twitter that have nothing to do with your business.
Let the community around you know that you’re a subject matter expert in your field. Helping others builds trust. That’s the foundation of a lasting relationship.
One common theme you’ll find in networking is that you have to give to get back. We’ll get to that later, but becoming a resource is an easy way to give back with little effort.
How do you maintain your network?
Now that you have a network in place, how do you sustain it?
Nurture Your Contacts
Check in with people. Ask how you can help. Send a quick email. Invite them to a panel or event you’re attending.
The way to maintain your network is to nurture your relationships continually. Nurturing is a simple way to show that you’re not just in this for the immediate gratification. You’re there even when nothing is wanted or needed.
Networking is about building an authentic relationship. Showing you care is the perfect way to show authenticity. Treat your contacts like you do your friends and check in regularly.
Networking is not always about what other people can do for you. It’s also about giving back.
Whether you’re just beginning to build a network or have been in the game for a while, make giving back to the people around you a priority.
Go out to support other businesses when they need it. Answer questions and make introductions when you can. Let people know they can depend on you the same way you can rely on them.
Your reputation is everything. Giving back to those around you showcases your empathy and compassion. If you build your reputation on anything, make those key attributes the foundation.
Don’t stop networking
It doesn’t matter how many people are currently in your network, never give up on building it. As your company grows, so will the questions, resources, and relationships you need to succeed.
In the entrepreneurial world where whom you know and who knows you mean everything, the best thing you can do is continue to foster relationships.
A network can make or break your ability to move forward in your business. Whether you’re looking for the right engineer to lead your project or in need of additional funding to move onto the next stage — the right contact is out there if you continue looking.
So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for that event. Invite someone out for dinner. Send a few follow-up emails.
Your network is your lifeline. Start treating it that way.