13 Sep 2012
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
Many start-up entrepreneurs spend a lot of their time and effort thinking about new products and services, and how to keep their eye toward opportunity.
When you’re focused on every aspect of running a company, particularly as a start-up, it’s hard to get out and network to make the connections that can open doors for strategic alliances and help your company’s profile. Networking becomes the one task that many small business owners and entrepreneurs put on the back burner due to the pressures of managing their new business.
In a weak economy, networking is more important than ever. It helps us to share ideas and contacts, collaborate on projects and open business doors for each other. But with so many places to turn – from business and professional associations to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites – it’s hard to know where to begin.
So what can you do to become a better networker? For answers, I turned to two well-networked and highly successful women entrepreneurs to get their insight.
Deborah Shane is a career author, media and marketing strategist, journalist and speaker. She blogs about careers, small business, personal branding and social media for several national websites, including Small Business Trends.
Ylonda Glover, is president and chief strategy officer for Tri-Success Management Institute, a 10-year-old management consulting firm based in Milwaukee. Glover is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Here are some tips Glover and Shane offered on how entrepreneurs can leverage networking to find new opportunities:
Blend your online networking with your in-person networking activities, Shane says. “It’s important to go out and meet people in person, but also it’s important to keep in touch with people and grow relationships via the web and online.
Be active on social media and use the social platform where your customers are engaged. “You want to be where your customers are engaging. If they are on LinkedIn or Twitter, that’s where you should be,” Shane said.
Schedule face-to-face meetings, get out of the office and have conversations. “In a tough economy it’s a smart move when you meet people face-to-face. Even if it’s just five minutes,” Shane said. “Don’t substitute a tweet, or a text or an email for an opportunity to meet someone in person.”
Join a professional organization and/or business association and go to events with a strategy for whom you want to meet and which story you want to tell about yourself and your business, Glover says. “It’s finding out what your target audience is and going to those events where you’re going to meet the right people.”
Form strategic partnerships with other like-minded entrepreneurs who can enhance your skill set and make it possible for your company to compete for bigger projects. “For high-dollar amounts, I try to partner with people who I have worked with in other settings, which helps me to know their work ethic,” said Glover who has landed federal contracts through such alliances.
Don’t push the sale without first building a relationship, Shane suggests. “You have to work on getting people to like and trust you,” she said. “Without the trust, things aren’t going to happen.”
Finally, both Glover and Shane urge entrepreneurs to step back and ask themselves are they doing smart networking. “Qualify the people you meet and figure out the ones who are a good match and put your time there,” Shane said.
Now that you’ve heard from the experts, what’s your best networking tip?