Entrepreneurship is not a solo journey. To be successful, you need to be in the right room, talking to the right people and making the right impression at the right time. Whether you seek a business partner, an investment, or simply want to get your business idea off the ground, networking is key.
And while many claim that networking is all about making connections, it is not always that simple. The most important part of networking for entrepreneurs is to ensure that you are connecting with the right people who can help you achieve your business goals.
So, how do you go about networking as an entrepreneur? Here’s a guide elaborating on all the available options for you to network in their own circle and outside.
But first, let’s start with the basics.
The main reason to network as an entrepreneur is simple: it allows you to meet prospective partners, investors, stakeholders, and others who can help your startup succeed. It helps you:
- Uncover new opportunities: You never know when or where you’ll meet your next potential business partner, customer, or employee. By networking with other entrepreneurs, you’re opening yourself up to a world of new opportunities.
- Get feedback and validation: It allows you to tap into the collective wisdom of experienced entrepreneurs who can help validate your ideas and offer constructive criticism.
- Find mentors and investors: A good mentor can be invaluable to a startup founder. They can provide guidance, introductions, and advice when you need it most. And if you’re lucky, you might even find an investor or two through your networking efforts.
- Get support: Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey. By networking with other entrepreneurs, you can find the support and camaraderie you need to keep going.
- Be at the forefront of new trends: As an entrepreneur, it’s important to be on the cutting edge of new trends. Frequent networking can help you stay ahead of the curve.
- Make important connections: You may never know who you’ll meet through your networking efforts. But if you play your cards right, you just might make the connection that takes your business to the next level.
8 Networking Strategies For Entrepreneurs
Networking opportunities are everywhere, but finding the time and energy to put yourself out there can be tough. Here are seven strategies for making the most of your networking efforts:
Find Relevant Connections On Social Media
One of the best things about social media is that it helps you connect with like-minded people worldwide. If you’re looking to network with other entrepreneurs, start with online startup communities:
Find niche-relevant groups, join them, and participate in the conversation. It’ll help you understand what others in your industry are talking about and identify potential collaborators.
Also, join groups run by your target audience. For example, if you run a business that sells eco-friendly products, look for groups related to sustainability or green living. It’ll help you learn more about your target market and discover new marketing channels.
Facebook also boasts numerous entrepreneurship-specific groups, such as Badass Marketers & Founders (BAMF) and Millennial Entrepreneur Community, that can help you connect with like-minded individuals.
While Facebook groups are a great way to connect with potential partners and customers, you hardly find investors or high-profile individuals there.
For that, you need to look elsewhere.
LinkedIn is a powerful platform hosting millions of entrepreneurs, startup owners, investors, and other business professionals.
The platform offers a multitude of features and options to help you expand your network.
You can start by connecting with:
- Individuals in your extended network, such as 2nd or 3rd-degree connections
- Individuals belonging to the niche you’re interested in
- People from your Alma Mater or other groups you’re a part of
- Prospects you’ve been trying to connect with for a while
You can also join relevant groups and engage in discussions to get noticed by potential partners and investors.
Tools like Waalaxy can automate almost every networking task for you and make it much easier. All you need to do is export your search results or a list of people you want to connect with, and Waalaxy will take care of the rest (from liking their posts to sending message and requests).
Twitter is a great conversation platform and can be very useful for entrepreneurs who want to connect with like-minded people or those who are interested in their businesses.
Numerous people of your interest are already talking about the things you’re passionate about. Find them, participate in the conversation, and develop relationships.
Use Twitter lists to find relevant people to follow and engage with. This feature allows you to group together people with similar interests so you can easily find and connect with them.
You can also use Twitter Advanced Search to find relevant tweets and people to follow. This search function allows you to narrow down your results by keyword, location, account type, and more.
Join An Online Community
Besides basic social media networking, you can join online communities full of entrepreneurs. These are great places to find advice, collaboration opportunities, and moral support.
There are many online communities for entrepreneurs, but here are a few popular ones:
- Indie Hackers: A community of over 100,000+ entrepreneurs who are building profitable online businesses.
- Product Hunt: A community of tech enthusiasts who love to share and discover new products.
- Hacker News: A social news website popular with startups and tech enthusiasts.
- GrowthHackers: A community of marketers and growth professionals who share tips and tactics.
In addition to these communities, there are several communities on platforms like Slack and Discord:
- Furlough Community: A community of entrepreneurs designed to help each other professionally, including networking
- Triba Business Community: A place where you can connect with potential clients, business partners, and like-minded professionals
- Growmance: A highly interactive community of growth-oriented entrepreneuers and product managers.
- #launch: A startup-oriented community focused on go-to-market strategies and early startup challenges.
Join National Communities & Alliance
Numerous industry-specific, business-specific, scale-specific, and interest-specific communities already exist. Find one (or more) that fit what you’re looking for and get involved. These are a few of our favourites:
- The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE): The largest nonprofit membership and advocacy organisation for self-employed and micro-businesses. You’ll have access to health insurance, business coaching, and other resources.
- Social Enterprise Alliance: SEA is the largest membership organisation in the U.S. for social enterprises. They have a number of membership benefits, including access to funding, business support, and educational resources.
- Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC): YEC is a global organisation made up of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. If you’re under 45 and are looking for advice, mentorship, or connections, this is the place to be.
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC): WBENC is the leading third-party certification provider for women-owned businesses in the U.S. If you’re a woman entrepreneur, becoming certified can help you access government contracts, corporate supplier diversity programs, and other opportunities.
Besides these national organisations, plenty of state and local groups can help you connect with other entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a searchable database of small business events, programs, and resources. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) maintains a list of chamber events by state.
Attend Industry Events
Another great way to network as an entrepreneur is to attend industry events. There, you’ll be able to meet other entrepreneurs, investors, and businesspeople in your industry. These events can be in-person or online.
Some popular industry events for entrepreneurs are:
- The Web Summit
- South by Southwest (SXSW)
- TED Conferences
- The Business of Software Conference (BoSCon)
There are also many smaller, more industry-specific events that you can attend. These events can be a great way to network because they’re usually more intimate, and you’ll have a better chance of meeting people who are relevant to your business.
To find industry events near you, try searching online or checking out websites like:
Attend Startup Networking Events
Besides industry events, there are also startup networking events. These events are usually hosted by startups, accelerators, or coworking spaces, and they’re geared towards entrepreneurs.
Some popular startup networking events are:
- Startup Weekends
- Founders Live
- Global Entrepreneurship Week
- Startup Grind
The best part about startup networking events is that they usually have a diverse group of people doing all sorts of different businesses. This means that you’ll have a good chance of meeting someone who can help you, even if they’re not in your industry.
Join An Accelerator
Startup accelerators can be a great way to connect if you’re just starting out. An accelerator is a program that helps startups grow by providing them with mentorship, funding, and resources.
Some of the most popular accelerators are:
- Y Combinator
- 500 Startups
Being part of an accelerator gives you access to a network of successful entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors. And not just that, it’s a cohort-based program, which means you’ll be able to develop strong relationships with the other founders in the program.
You can apply to accelerators by filling out an application form on their website. The application process is usually competitive, so make sure you put your best foot forward.
Work From A Coworking Space
While it’s not as formal as an accelerator, working from a coworking space can benefit your networking efforts. For one, it allows you to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who are all working on their own startups. This is a great environment for collaboration and idea-sharing.
Additionally, most coworking spaces host regular events, which are great opportunities to network with other entrepreneurs. These events usually revolve around a particular theme or topic, and they’re a great way to meet people who are passionate about the same things as you are.
Participate In Startup Competitions
Another great way to network as an entrepreneur is to participate in startup competitions. These competitions are often organised by incubators, accelerators, and other organisations supporting startups.
Competitions usually involve pitching your startup idea to a panel of judges, who will then provide feedback and select a winner. This is a great opportunity to get your startup idea in front of potential investors and customers, and it’s also a great way to network with other entrepreneurs.
Some famous startup competitions include the Startup Weekend, the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield, and the SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event. Some of these require you to have a minimum viable product (MVP) before participating, so check the requirements before applying.
Attend A Startup Conference
Startup conferences are formal startup-related discussions that are usually a day or two long and are a great way to network with other entrepreneurs. These conferences provide an opportunity to listen to startup thought leaders speak about their experiences and offer networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs.
Some notable startup conferences include the Web Summit, the Collision Conference, and the TED Conference. Besides these, there are also:
- Slush – A student-driven, nonprofit movement originally founded to change attitudes towards entrepreneurship
- Startup Grind – A global startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs
- SXSW – One of the largest creative festivals in the world that celebrates the convergence of digital creatives and business.
Do’s & Don’ts of Entrepreneurial Networking
No matter how big or small your network is, there are a few key things to keep in mind when you’re connecting with other entrepreneurs.
- Do your homework: Before you attend any networking event, do your research. Look up the attendees and see if there are any common connections you can leverage. This will help break the ice and give you something to talk about.
- Be genuine: It’s important to be yourself when networking. People can spot a fake from a mile away, so don’t try to be someone you’re not.
- Be a good listener: In order to build strong relationships, you need to be a good listener. Pay attention to what the other person is saying and ask follow-up questions.
- Be ready with your elevator pitch: When networking, you never know when you’ll meet someone who could be a potential customer, partner, or investor. Having your elevator pitch ready will help you make the most of these opportunities.
- Follow-up: After meeting someone, be sure to follow up with them. Send them an email or connect with them on social media (preferably Linkedin) and invite them to coffee.
- Don’t be too salesy: It’s okay to talk about your business, but don’t make it all about you. Be interested in hearing about the other person and their business as well.
- Don’t forget your manners: Be polite and professional at all times. This includes things like not talking too much, not interrupting, and using please and thank you.
- Don’t make it all about you: Yes, networking is about making connections and finding opportunities for yourself. But if you only talk about yourself, people will tune you out quickly. Instead, focus on making connections and building relationships.
- Don’t forget to follow up: After meeting someone, send them a quick note (email or LinkedIn message) thanking them for their time. And then keep in touch! Send them articles you think they might be interested in, invite them to coffee or lunch, etc.
- Don’t miss an opportunity to introduce your business: If you have a business card, make sure to have it with you at all times. You never know when you might meet someone interested in what you do!
Networking is key for any entrepreneur. No matter how introverted or shy you might be, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and connecting with others is important. There are many different ways to network, so find the ones that work best for you and get started.
But do make sure to stay genuine, be yourself, and most importantly, have fun! Networking should be enjoyable, not a chore.
Go On, Tell Us What You Think!
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A startup consultant, digital marketer, traveller, and philomath. Aashish has worked with over 20 startups and successfully helped them ideate, raise money, and succeed. When not working, he can be found hiking, camping, and stargazing.
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Author: Aashish Pahwa