The role of mentors is most crucial in the first 12 months of a startup as a company goes through maximum experiments during this period, and makes numerous changes in its business model.
Have you ever thought why a team suddenly resigns when its boss/leader decides to change the organization? People are always happier working with familiar faces, anywhere in the world. Great teams are built with healthy networks and the real strength for growth also lies in effective networks. For a startup, its network is divided broadly into three buckets- potential clients, investors and ‘strategic partners’. A strategic partner is anyone who can help you grow your business further in a small or a big way. It could be media companies that support you get visibility or a corporate that helps you in a smooth entry into the market through its products/services. However, this does not mean that you completely ignore networking or connecting with people outside these three categories. It is a small world and anyone could be a potential strategic partner. If not today, may be tomorrow.
Let’s presume that as a startup you already know that networking can be done by attending startup events, conferences and meeting as many people as you can. Not to forget American author Keith Ferrazzi’s theory of “Never eat alone” where he says that networking is the net worth of an individual and one should utilize a meal to build a link in the network.
You may have a stack of business cards on your working desk but that necessarily does not mean that you are well networked. Most conversations get lost in a bubble after making introductions for the first time. Here is a glance at where really the gap is when you are networking as an entrepreneur and what you need to know.
There are two kinds of networking- one that happens accidently and the other – for which you take out time. As a startup, you do not want to invest time in an activity that is not goal oriented. Make pillars of your bigger goals as a startup and sub divide the kind of networking you would want to do under each category. For instance, if the bigger goal is tapping the consumer market for a mobile app that helps aspirants prepare for GMAT test, you need to network in the circles of leaders that motivate MBA aspirants. Tell yourself that you will meet five counselors in two weeks and then measure how much it has impacted your customer base. As an entrepreneur, networking for you is as important as separate business vertical. So assign time for it which could be x number of hours in a week. Also assign a person for networking, if you do not have time yourself. Hire an official or find a co-founder if you feel that someone else can network better than you.
Help others before you expect help
The golden rule of networking is to accept the fact that each individual is working for the growth of an ecosystem. You do not want to be recognized as a person who only takes benefits and does not return favours. Many people like to keep their cards close to their chest when it comes to contacts, but this never helps. The startup ecosystem is wide and if you don’t help someone, that person will seek help from another in the ecosystem. Remember, you do not have a copyright on your contacts. So don’t be shy to introduce and connect people. Share the best of your knowledge about both parties, introduce them and put in a genuine word. There can be larger cake and everybody gets to eat it rather than having a small cake and eating it yourself. Be considerate and revisit the people you have introduced. Ask them whether it was a helpful introduction. This will build strong long term relationships.
Follow Up is never the easy part
In many instances, people make introductions to connect entrepreneurs with investors, potential partners or other people in the fraternity, or vice versa. So what next? Should you be the first one to initiate questions/suggestions after an introduction? Yes, why not. Especially, if you are dealing with someone senior and who is being connected to hundred startups every week, please be the enthusiastic one. Be the first one to follow up for a meeting. Drop a thank you line after the meeting. Be prompt with any information that you said you will share with the person.
Networking does not mean selling yourself
This is the most common mistake startups make when they are trying to network. Introducing yourself does not mean upfront selling of your business and telling how cool you are as an entrepreneur. Often meetings which are full of self-proclaimed success stories recited by entrepreneurs do not culminate into a potential next meeting. Investors, partners, co- entrepreneurs refrain from founders who do not believe in two way communication. In a networking meeting or interaction, talk about how it will benefit the other person and you (in that order) to work together. Ask intelligent questions about the industry which the other person might have a better view of.
Do not underestimate social media
In today’s digital world, entrepreneurs rely on social networks for most networking – channels like Linkedin being a common network for people to connect. However, networking through these channels can backfire if not done carefully. A startup needs to prioritize its positioning, and then accordingly strategize the social media plan. There is a lack and a big gap where serious introductions in the startup community can happen through social media. It is also advisable to stay away from social media channels unless you are sure of what you want to market. Social media means opening the door to two way communication publicly with your consumers, investors and partners which should be done only after analyzing the repercussions. The basic rule is to keep your profile updated and professional if you are looking at business networking on social media. A social platform which understands the startup needs and ecosystem still is the need of the hour for effective networking in this space. So be very specific about why you are connecting and what you have in mind.