How to Improve Your Networking While Starting a Business
No one can navigate an obstacle course while wearing a blindfold—at least not alone. Without their eyesight to rely on, they need someone to talk them through the course and let them know where the obstacles are at.
Starting a business can feel a lot like running an obstacle course blindfolded. There are countless pitfalls you’ve never seen before, meaning you run a pretty high risk of failure. Unless you have people to help you navigate the treacherous terrain of starting a business.
If you’ve got the right people to help you, your chances of success skyrocket—it’s just a matter of finding them. To do that, you need to network. Going out and meeting new people will help you create a dream team of clients, employees, partners, and more.
Before you start…
To make sure your networking efforts succeed, you need to equip yourself to meet new people. One of the most important tools to add to your arsenal is an updated business card. Business cards are necessary because connections need a quick, easy way to reach you in the future. And you need a new business card, because your old one likely won’t reflect the fact that you’re now the owner of a shiny new startup.
Once you’ve got your card, you can start carrying it with you to places where you’re likely to meet good connections. Here are some great venues to try:
Business organizations are the most obvious starting point, because they’re comprised of professionals who want to meet other professionals. Since there are many types of business organizations, it’s up to you to decide which one will work best for you.
You might be satisfied becoming a member of your local chamber of commerce, or you may want to join an international association, which offer exclusive access to webinars, business tips, and other resources from around the world. Most international groups also have local chapters, giving them the feel of a small organization with the benefits of a larger community.
Professionals in any industry can attend local networking events to connect with others in their area. This has some huge advantages, because you can have face-to-face meetings with your connections instead of trying to conjure up a relationship through a virtual venue.
There are plenty of apps and websites for meeting professionals, but there’s another resource you may have overlooked: ticket sellers. Many ticket sales websites will also include an event calendar, beyond the typical sports and concerts. You can find great opportunities to meet other professionals, and some sites even use your computer’s location to suggest events in your area that might be interesting to you.
Tradeshows are too costly (and time consuming) to be your daily networking strategy, but they work well as part of a monthly or quarterly strategy. Tradeshows let you meet people in an industry-specific environment and create a relationship you can then foster for a few weeks before attending another tradeshow. This lets you expand your network gradually, instead of scrambling to build a huge contact list right away.
Tradeshows also have other advantages. They help you learn about industry regulations and practices—which is never a bad thing when you’re running a startup. And if you operate a tradeshow booth, you’ll enjoy the luxury of contacts coming to you.
If you’ve passed on volunteering opportunities before, you’re not alone. Only 25% of Americans volunteered in 2015. One of the biggest reasons non-volunteers cited was lack of interest—but that’s not a valid excuse.
There are thousands of local nonprofits that feed the hungry, house the homeless, assist pregnant teens, bring arts to low-income schools, and more. If you’d rather travel the world, you can find short-term volunteer abroad opportunities to match any of your skills.
Not only will you get to give back to your community, you’ll meet other professionals who share your passions. And if they’re generous enough to donate their time in a volunteer setting, they just might be generous enough to help with your business.
The stress of starting a business often takes a physical toll on the body. You need to get all that negative energy out somehow, and fitness classes are one of the best ways to do it. You’ll stay in shape, gain the energy you need to run your business, and potentially meet your next client or employee.
Fitness classes are a natural networking spot: people are focused on getting to know each other, so they talk about their jobs casually. In the course of those conversations, they discover common ground. I once took a yoga class with an instructor who wanted a website; when she learned another student was a web developer, she hired him on the spot.
Pets—and dogs in particular—are scientifically proven to be great icebreakers. Take your pooch out to play, and you’ll naturally strike up conversations with people who wouldn’t approach you otherwise. Some of those people may even turn out to be your next business partners.
While dogs are pretty popular, they’re not the only ones that can help with your “pet-working.” You can also join horseback riding clubs if you’re into equestrian sports, or take your cat to local cat shows (yep, they’re a thing). You’ll bond with your pet and connect with other professional pet owners over your common interest.
What are your favorite networking hot spots? Let me know in the comments!