There is one term used over and over in business that we have all heard - “NETWORK”. Networking is at the center of everything business related and is something that is preached constantly in every realm of the work world. And yet, I am not a fan of the term “networking”. This is not to say that creating a network of mentors, teachers, friends, and teammates is not important, but rather, that the term “networking” takes the interpersonality out of the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur, or anyone in the business world, which is the relationships that you have the ability to build. Relationships, not “networking”, is what helps drive business, gain customers, develop relationships, and ultimately grow your business and your support structure. For this reason, “networking” in this sense is simply relationship building, and proves to be a central aspect to growing and operating any successful business or venture.
“Relationships, not “networking”, is what helps drive business, gain customers, develop relationships, and ultimately grow your business and your support structure.”
Your own personal network, or lack thereof, sums up your ability to accomplish tasks, to sell, to break through hurdles, and solve problems that inevitably occur while launching your own venture. This makes relationship building incredibly important to a flourishing business, and also makes the venture all the more worthwhile as you work day in and day out to grow the business. This section is focused on the importance of building relationships, and how to go about building and growing these relationships over time.
Individuals often think of entrepreneurship as a lone wolf endeavor, and although this is the case at times, this is not at all the case for building a successful enterprise. Without a doubt, there will be sacrifices to be made, including staying up late to work while friends are out partying, waking up early to get things done while others are still sleeping, and relentless dedication to your craft, but start-ups require relationships in order to get past the inevitable hurdles that present themselves along the way. No one can be successful on their own, and although the venture will require sweat and tears on your part, networking is essential to operating a successful business. These relationships may help you find a business partner, they may help you find an individual with the skills and expertise that you are looking to hire, or they may help you find the right customer, but in any sense, a broad and dense network is essential to helping build and develop your business.
Obviously, there are the standard platforms used to network and grow connections online, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms used to connect with customers and any other individuals that might be helpful to your company. There are a couple other networking tools that I have used that have helped me throughout my time as an entrepreneur, and that I believe could help anyone else looking to grow, build, and connect with other individuals.
The first tool that I use regularly and really enjoy is an app called Ryze. Ryze coins itself a “personal relationship manager”, and it does exactly that, all in one central place. Ryze allows you to input data and information about individuals you meet on a daily, used for both professional and personal circumstances, and helps to remind you to follow up with those individuals in certain time frames set by yourself, you can choose to follow up with someone once a week, once a month, once every six months, or whatever you see fit for the specific relationship. Being able to input individuals information really helps me because it helps me to stay fresh and keep people's information straighten my own head. We have all the the situation where we meet ten different people at a networking event, simply to realize that a week later you can only remember two names and you weren’t sure if Steve was the one with two daughters and that owns the cabin, or if Linda was the one that graduated from the University of Michigan and has a dog named Spot. Ryze helps me keep all my information straight, and also reminds me to follow up with these individuals over time, to help me continually build my relationships with these individuals over time, as you never know when one of these relationships will come in handy for yourself, or when you may be able to help them. Ryze also has different categories for individuals, and I have separate categories for my mentors, my customers, my colleagues, and even my friends. It is simply to use and allows me to stay up to date and keep all my information in one area, making it an ideal tool to help build your network and continually grow relationships over time.
“Relationships may help you find a business partner, they may help you find an individual with the skills and expertise that you are looking to hire, or they may help you find the right customer, but in any sense, a broad and dense network is essential to helping build and develop your business.”
Another tool I like to use to network, in a little more informal setting, is called Meetup.com. This may seem against the grain, but it helps connect you with individuals with nearly any aspiration, interest, or passion. Instantly, you can look for individuals in your area that have areas in common, and it is a great way to quickly grow a network without a lot of exterior work. Let’s say you were creating a new product for Hiking/Exploring. You could go onto Meetup.com and search for individuals in your area that are interesting in this specific topic and then see upcoming scheduled events and where they will be located. At a single event, there could be 20, 50, even 100 people attending, and you can get a vast amount of customer feedback and ethnographic research being right in the middle of a wide variety of individuals all passionate about a field you are creating a product for. This is a much less formal tool, but has allowed me to gain insights and feedback much faster than sending out emails or trying to pinpoint your exact customer archetype, which allows for quicker iterations and ultimately a faster and more efficient launching process.
To go along with everything touched on above, I want to finish with some of the relationship building strategies that could also benefit the entrepreneurs looking to build and enhance their network. Feel free to use as many or as few of the tactics listed below, as one tactic work better for some and another tactic may work better for others. Ultimately, these are samples that you can try out on your own, and then use what you find helpful and forget about the rest. Enjoy.
Strategies to Help Develop Relationships and Build an Entrepreneur Ecosystem
Always Follow UpFollowing up is a necessity when developing any relationship. If you were looking for a new girlfriend or new boyfriend, you wouldn’t talk once and then wait until the next time you see them, you make sure to follow up and stay in touch, and the same holds true for business. Anytime you have a substantial interaction, or an interaction that you would like to develop, always follow up. This shows the other individual that you are interested, and also shows that you care. People are much more willing to go out of their way to help connect you with someone or aid on a project the better they know you, so make sure to follow up, and always send a follow up email, text, or call (depending on the type of relationship and what feels most comfortable to you) to keep the relationship growing.
Write, Don’t Type, Thank YouThank You cards are one of the aspects that have gone by the wayside over the years, with how easy it is to send an email or text, but the power of a handwritten letter is certainly not lost. Taking the time to hand write a thank you shows the other party that you are taking the time out of your day to thank the person for their time, and in my time in entrepreneurship, this is probably my most cherished piece of advice. This works great for mentor-type relationships, but can pertain to any situation. Drafting an email is simple, and if that is the only contact information you have, then by all means draft a thank you email, which still shows that you are grateful for another individual’s time, but if you have the time always go for the handwritten letter. It can be as easy as a few sentences, thanking an individual for taking the time to meet and about a point or two that you took away from the conversation, and that’s all it takes. This is one that I use regularly, and I can tell you have have developed some of my deepest relationships with mentors that started from a handwritten thank you letter.
Seek Advice, Never a ‘Position’When reaching out to an individual for coffee, lunch, or a short informational interview, stress the idea of wanting to learn and gain advice, rather than seeking a particular position. People love to talk about themselves, and this is something you can use to your advantage when reaching out to get initial meetings with individuals. By starting the relationship by simply seeking advice and mentoring, you are setting up a scenario where individuals do not feel like they are interviewing you or looking for strengths and weaknesses in your portfolio, which helps create a personal and friendly atmosphere in mentor-mentee meetings. Often, these relationships will flourish and you may get offered a position or role at a company once people start to learn more about the skills and traits that make you special, but don’t go in looking for these pieces, rather let the relationship naturally bring about these different aspects.
Don’t Underestimate “Weak-TiesAlthough deep and meaningful relationships help grow yourself as an individual, do not underestimate “weak-ties”. Weak-ties would be the 300 friends you have on Facebook or LinkedIn, but have never met. This may seem counterintuitive, but it can pay-off huge down the road in ways you would never expect. Often, initial connections are hard to get, especially with individuals that are high up in C-Suite positions in a company, or at harder to reach companies like Facebook, Google, Tesla, or other Tech giants that are rapidly growing in our current marketplace. Whether you are looking for a mentor, looking for a customer, or looking for someone with particular skills to add to your team, like a coding expert, mechanical engineer, or website designer, having many weak-ties is a great way to get an initial introduction. Although you personally may not know someone that is right for the job, someone that you know may know them, and having an internal connection is always a great way to good a foot in the door. For this reason, you should never underestimate “weak-ties” and you should always be open to asking to get connected through a mutual connection, and alternatively, open to helping someone connect with one of your mutual connections.
Think of What You Can OfferOne of the biggest problems with “networking” is that individuals are always looking for what others have to offer them, rather than, what they have to offer others. When going into a new relationship, or when developing a relationship over time, always be thinking about what you have to offer the other individual in the relationship. This may be hard to do at the start of the relationship, especially if you are being “mentored” by another individual, but it will come over time. If you are constantly looking for what you have to offer others, and looking to help others where you may have expertise, it gives yet another bond that will help build and grow the relationship over time. Also, when you help others, they are much more willing to return the favor, and this creates a two-way dialogue for collaboration and ideation, which is ultimately what entrepreneurship and innovation is all about.