It’s a common misconception that networking comes naturally to entrepreneurs. However, stepping outside of your comfort zone and building relationships requires solid effort no matter who you are. Networking, like any activity, takes practice for you to become more comfortable with doing it. Like a muscle, with exercises that exist to help you perform better without having to think about it, similar habits exist that will help you get stronger at making connections with like-minded entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Connect with other amazing, passionate individuals to share knowledge and experience, grow your business, and become lifelong friends. Follow these four foundational tips to improve your networking skills:
Proper Body Language
Stand tall, relax your shoulders, and do your best to appear confident (even if you might feel otherwise). This expansive posture demonstrates openness and self-assurance to others, and yourself. Tons of research exists that shows the positive influence of posture on the mind--do a quick google search and you’ll see what we mean! On the other hand, the opposite is also true. When you appear slumped over and closed in facing the ground with hunched shoulders, the corresponding emotions making you feel self-conscious and nervous become evident in your stature. This underlines the importance of staying off your phone. Though your device is a safe place to distract you and make you appear busy, you look unapproachable and disinterested--neither of which will help you network.
First and foremost, arrive early to events. This means you can get a head start without having to enter a large, intimidating group of people if you arrive later. With fewer people, it’s easier to jump in and find someone to start a conversation with.
Bring your business cards! Pro-tip: keep your business cards in one pocket and any you collect in another. Separating them will keep you organized and ensure you don’t lose any.
Finally, have a plan in mind. Whether your goal is meeting new people or strengthening relationships you already have, brainstorm conversation-starters and questions to ask. Try to strategize the best ways to connect with this individual, but don’t be so rigid that you’re stuck to a script.
Know Your Elevator Pitch
Not only are you trying to make a good impression of yourself, but you also want to make a good impression of your business. You don’t want to fumble around describing your mission statement, nor do you want to hold the floor for so long that by the time you are finished all your partner can think about is what they’re having for dinner tomorrow. Be creative and concise and simply know why and how you can help people. Your business is your passion and you know these things inside and out, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to outline a conversational pitch to showcase your business.
Make Genuine Connections
Step outside of your comfort zone and initiate conversations with questions as simple as “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” Maybe try out, “Working on anything exciting lately?” or “What was the highlight of your day/week?” Be present, and dedicate yourself fully to listening and hearing what your partner has to say. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. Ask open-ended questions using journalism’s five W’s (and how) to give the conversation lots of room to flow. Remember that the purpose of networking isn’t to gain more leads, but instead to increase your access to opportunities while seeking to provide similar opportunities to your peers. Relationships come first, business second.
These tips should provide you with a great jumping-off point for you to work on your networking style and develop tools suited specifically for you. Don’t discount networking as just another business buzzword--allow it to spark your personal and professional development.
Ready to flex your networking muscles? Alberta Women Entrepreneurs is hosting two AWE Connect events this September, in Edmonton (Sept. 16) and Calgary (Sept. 24)! Both events will feature inspiring attendees and panelists and provide an evening of entrepreneurial learning for a collective of passionate entrepreneurs like yourself. Register today!