As a former business development executive, I miss my expense account. Seriously–it has always been a ton of fun to mingle with people and get paid to do it. Now running my own consulting firm, volunteering some time at a non-profit, and helping several other founders get their businesses off the ground, I have less time and budget to do one of the things I love: networking. Jeff Hoffman, a member of the founding teams at Priceline.com and uBid.com, and now launching ColorJar, gets this. In a blog post for Inc.com today, Jeff shares with other entrepreneurs what he has learned about the value of networking, as well as some tips to the uninitiated.
Launching and growing a business is hard. You need to find those relationships (that will help), and then cultivate and nourish them, to keep them alive and healthy. When you are trying to go from point A to point D in business…people act as bridges from point B to point C, saving you valuable time and money.
1. Identify people who could help you and your company.
Make a list of potential relationships you’d like to forge, either by individual’s names, or by companies and positions. You can’t pursue your targets until you know who and what they are…write down next to each name precisely what you think the person can do to help your business.
2. Contact these people on a regular basis, and stay in touch with them.
The most important part of this regular communication is to make sure you are acutely aware of their needs, not just yours. Ask them what they are trying to accomplish and how you can help. And then do it when you can.
3. Find ways to give back to them.
Make a list of the interests of the people on your go-to list…Let each individual know you remember and care about those interests. Interesting article? Send it to the appropriate contact. Meet a smart person in that field? Make an introduction. (Cool, relevant) event? Invite (them) to attend. Provide a value to your contacts, if you expect to receive it in return.
4. Acknowledge them in your social media.
Discuss their work, congratulate their accomplishments, and keep them in your discussions. Show them that you are not only aware of the importance of their work, but that you follow it and celebrate it.
5. Schedule a time in your calendar to think about and research each contact.
Once you make this relationship list, it needs maintenance and updating. Set a periodic time to review the list, update it, and think again about how these people can help you and how you can help them. Your needs have changed and so have theirs.
6. Make them feel 10 feet tall from time to time.
Send out handwritten notes. Or fruit baskets. Make sure the people in your network know that you appreciate them and recognize their importance in your life. A little gratitude goes a long way.
Great advice from someone who has obviously helped many other people along the way. Now that I am in the role of advising others, I frequently encourage them to “pay it forward,” helping someone else with their needs before asking for hep with your own. Go out of your way to make introductions for all kinds of solutions–that kind of capital is priceless!
I also like Jeff’s suggestions on how to keep the conversation alive–good stuff! Remembering to do the personal touches mentioned above is not just good etiquette–it’s great business practice! Smart networking follows these best practices.