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We all know that networking is a key component of business success, but it doesn’t come easily for everyone. Karen Wickre, a former communications executive at Twitter and Google, has learned a lot about making connections over the years. She describes herself as an introvert and is sharing her expertise in her new book, “Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count” (Touchstone, 2018). StartupNation talked with Wickre to learn what entrepreneurs can do to network better.
The first thing, she says, is to remember that networking means having a conversation, and nothing more.
“Network isn’t about how many business cards you collect or (how many) sales leads you generate,” she said. “The more real conversation you can have at the beginning, the better.”
Instead, approach networking as a tactic for gathering intelligence, shaping ideas and getting to know other people regardless of a direct benefit to your work.
One thing to remember is that whether someone is an introvert, extrovert, or in between, most people like making connections with others.
“People like to help, if it is not forced on them,” she said, adding that most people like it when others take an interest in them.
While listening is a vital part of networking, it’s not a bad idea to have an agenda, either, Wickre added. You don’t need to outline your conversation prior to, but you should go to a networking event or meeting with a few ideas of what you want to take away from it.
If you’re setting up a coffee meeting with a mutual connection, Wickre suggests stating your intentions in your initial email.
For example: “I would like to meet you for coffee to talk to you about researching fabricators and get any vendor recommendations you may have.”
That way, the other person knows what your expectations are, and you have a framework for the conversation to help remove some of the initial stress.
When it comes to networking, many introverted entrepreneurs do better online than in person, but at some point, virtual relationships must move to the real world. Assuming your online personality and your in-person one are similar, Wickre says it’s pretty easy to make the transition.
Make these in-person meetings one-on-one and time limited: a half-hour for coffee is perfect. If turns out that the two of you have more to talk about, then you have a perfect opportunity to schedule a follow up.
“You don’t have to cram it in all at once,” Wickre said.
In fact, the follow up meeting is one of Wickre’s secrets, as it’s a form of what she refers to as “loose touch.” A follow up gives you the opportunity to continue the conversation. In fact, she’s a fan of ongoing contact that follows a low-stress, sociable nature.
“It’s one big web of people asking and receiving,” she said of this style of networking.
“The most important thing is keeping in touch so you’re visible and so that it’s not all about business. That’s an important way to extend relationships,” she said.
You don’t always want to be in sales mode, and basic social conversations about sports, traffic, upcoming holidays and weekend plans help establish your developing relationship.
Finally, Wickre says that worrying about social skills while networking can be counterproductive. Networking is just a simple conversation. If you’re worried that working long hours by yourself is making you anti-social, she recommends taking your laptop out for coffee. When she was working on her book, she had several cafes she would go to, just to be in the mix of other people.
What do you do to network with your fellow entrepreneurs? Tell us your tips for making connections in the comments section below.
“Taking the Work Out of Networking” will be available at fine booksellers and can be purchased via StartupNation.com on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018.