(Photo by Kate Leshko)
Let’s not beat around the bush: A lot of people dread the whole networking thing. It takes time, effort, sticking your neck out there and often a good bit of schmoozing.
“I hate networking,” confessed Megan Anthony, the community manager at 1313 Innovation. From hosting meetups to her previous, more corporate jobs, she’s had to build relationships at lots of work events. “I’m pretty sure half the battle of networking is just choosing to ‘show up’ and another 20 percent is trying to remember to smile and not look like a deer in headlights.”
But there’s no denying networking is invaluable.
Instead of thinking of it as a necessary evil, consider networking an opportunity to build important relationships with customers, team members and your community.
And remember networking isn’t a one-and-done deal. “It takes time to build a genuine network of people,” said Robert Herrera, a Delaware architect who’s creating the newest coworking space in Wilmington called The Mill. He’s seen young entrepreneurs get flustered when they try to rush things. “They would be better off taking the time to listen to what the people on the other side of the table need — particularly if they are already established and experienced.”
Here are a few tips from Wilmington-based entrepreneurs to make the most out of your networking efforts:
First, you’ve got to attend some events. Cruise around Meetup.com, Facebook and sites like Technical.ly for inspiration.
Ryan Harrington, also a manager at 1313 Innovation, considers being an active community member a surefire way to build a strong network. “Dedicate a portion of your week — perhaps one or two nights — to going to happy hours, meetups, or talks,” he said. “By consistently attending, you’ll slowly start to meet more people within those networks.” He also advised becoming a connector for other people when possible — something that others will then be more likely to do for you.
Harrington’s 1313 Innovation counterpart, Megan Anthony, recommends bringing a “hype man” with you. “Having someone who genuinely believes in you who will advocate for your business or services is the best way to network,” she said. “And remember to advocate for people who’ve done a great job for you.”
You need a strategy in mind once you get to an event.
- Follow the rule of odds. That’s the latest trick for John Himics, cofounder of the web design and development company First Ascent Design. “Try to only join conversations that are groups of an odd number,” he said. “People tend to pair off, and you won’t be able to as easily get into the conversation if there are two, four, six people.”
- Instead of meeting as many people as possible, focus on making two to three strong connections and then follow up with those people afterward, Harrington advises.
- Be nice. “Sometimes what stands out most is a small gesture of kindness,” said Bob Downing, cofounder of Delaware Sports League. “Hold the door for someone, even if it means you have to wait an extra 15 seconds. You would be surprised at how meaningful to someone else those ‘meaningless’ 15 seconds could be.”
- Don’t be afraid to have a meaningful conversation, even if it’s not work-related. “Build a relationship first and offer your pitch second,” Downing advised. “A good conversation is NEVER a waste of time.”
Send follow-up notes to the people you met. And, whether it’s mentioned in the note or at a future meeting, Downing says it’s a big plus to remember something about them or a detail they mentioned in a story.
“It communicates to them that not only were you paying attention to them, but you found what they had to say worthy of committing it to memory. That feels good,” he said. “People like other people who make them feel good about themselves. People like working with people who they like. You do the math.”