Entrepreneurs like to spend their time thinking about new products and their grandiose vision. But though these are key drivers for any startup, there's another task that's of the utmost importance: networking.
Networking helps you become more interconnected within your industry, opens the door for new partnerships and creates visibility for you and your company.
And it's enriching. You gain new perspectives, new ideas, new wisdom and, if you're lucky, new mentors.
Here are eight things you can do to become a better networker as an entrepreneur:
1. Be active on social media
It's not enough to simply create social network accounts; you need to stay active. Keep your Facebook company page updated, your Twitter feed buzzing and relevant, and your LinkedIn page professional. And you have to be proactive in talking to people and establishing connections. If you're not interacting with new people on a regular basis, you aren't doing enough.
2. Get on a niche social network
There are plenty of social networks out there are they tailored just for entrepreneurs, and they provide an easy way to find other entrepreneurs around the world, without the clutter of a general social network. These sites can help volumes with gaining industry connections and help get more of your ideas off the ground. Some examples are StartupNation, Cofoundr and Biznik.
3. Attend industry events
Though we live on the Internet now, face-to-face interaction is still powerful. Keep up to date with all the conferences, seminars and events that are happening, and show up at as many of them as you can. Trade shows can also help, but you'll have to push harder to make connections at them. Whatever event you're attending, don't wait for people to approach you. Get out there, be genuine and engage people.
4. Keep your elevator pitch primed and polished
Don't let yourself get caught off guard. When opportunity strikes, be ready to fire off your business ideas in a heartbeat, because you may never have a second shot. Practice your pitches until you know your subject cold and can rattle off all the info without stutters, and be constantly trying to improve your delivery. Keep it organized and concise, and you'll have the person's attention.
5. Get referrals, and trade contacts with others
Each person you meet has hundreds of others within his or her circle, and that's an opportunity you can't afford not to take advantage of. Ask if they know anyone else that may be willing to give some helpful advice, or would be interested in your ideas.
6. Be reachable 24/7
Chances to network can strike at any time, so don't leave your phone off the hook. Answer e-mails diligently and don't automatically ignore unfamiliar numbers on your cell. Just like the elevator pitch, sometimes you only have one shot at getting it right, so don't cause unnecessary frustration for the people with whom you're trying to network.
7. Always follow up
Again, it's all about being proactive. Be the first to re-engage—don't wait for an e-mail back from a person that you spoke to the day before. Phone calls can be missed and e-mails can get buried. People are generally just busy, especially in the business world, so be the one to instigate. Even people that you've been communicating with for a long time can slowly drift away, so don't allow that to happen.
8. Cultivate every relationship
If you treat people like they're just stepping stones for your cause, you won't get anywhere. Try to dig deeper in each interpersonal relationship that you make. Go out to lunch, talk about your personal life and really get to know the people that you talk to. Find out who they are, what their interests are and what makes them tick. If everything's always just about business, there's no real relationship there, and that will hurt you in the long run.
Image credit: Vattenfall