To help startup leaders excel in networking, we’ve gathered 15 invaluable tips from Founders, CEOs, and other industry professionals. From fostering authentic relationships to being strategic and helpful in networking, dive into these expert insights to build valuable connections and partnerships.
Foster Authentic Relationships
Startup leaders should focus on establishing real and meaningful connections. They should genuinely engage with others, provide value without immediate expectations, and effectively communicate their startup’s value.
An active online presence, involvement in industry events and communities, and persistence are essential. By fostering authentic relationships and contributing value, startup leaders can create valuable connections and partnerships, ultimately benefiting their businesses.
With Small Business Digital Ready, you gain access to free events hosted by industry experts. Plus, get opportunities to network with peers in your area.
Stand Out with Cold Emailing
I’ve had great success with cold emailing for networking. It’s fantastic when it works well, but it’s very easy to get wrong.
The most important tip is to be unique and interesting. Your email has to stand out from everyone else’s. Rather than just asking the other person for things, make your value clear.
Outline what your startup does, and the niche you fill—this is your email elevator pitch.
Be specific about why you are contacting them in particular. Getting cold emailing right takes a lot of research. You want to contribute meaningfully, not just ask for their input.
Building a connection starts with you offering things, not asking for them. So, your first email should outline a way that you can benefit the other person. This hook gives them a reason to respond.
Cold emailing is great for startups with tight budgets because it’s easy to do in-house, and the greatest cost is time.
Engage and Nurture Relationships on LinkedIn
Networking is essential for achieving many goals. To learn some tips and tricks, I attended a networking workshop.
After meeting someone at an event, connect with them on LinkedIn. But don’t just send a plain connection invitation. Take a moment to write a personal connection request message. The next day, drop them a friendly message to express how nice it was to meet them and keep the conversation flowing, revisiting the topics you discussed at the event.
Then, stay engaged! Interact with their posts, give likes, and share interesting resources or articles that you think might benefit them. And don’t hesitate to introduce them to other people in your network who might be valuable connections for them. Also, keep nurturing the relationship by remembering their special occasions, like birthdays and holidays.
Provide Value Through Specific Referrals
One effective networking technique is to ask for a specific type of related referral for services that your connections need.
For example, if you are a digital marketer or publicist like me, then you likely have clients that fit within a few major niches. Figure out what those clients need, and where you lack the capabilities to help them. Then, ask other connections who they know that can fill that need, and to make introductions. Connect the referrals you get with clients who would be interested in talking with them.
In this way, you are providing value to several people, and expecting nothing in return. They will appreciate that you made those connections and a portion of those people will keep you in mind when a need arises for your services, too.
This method gives you a reason to reconnect with existing connections, introduces you to people who have capabilities different than your own, and brings value to your clients. It’s a win all around.
Master the Art of Follow-Up
The one important thing to keep in mind for startup leaders looking to network is the value of a good follow-up message. Introducing yourself and meeting new connections is always easy, but the difficult part is the follow-up.
When I started growing my network for Taskade, I always made sure to follow up within a week of meeting new people at events, conferences, or meetings. If the first interaction went well, I would immediately go in-depth to discuss opportunities and business. However, if the first interaction was “meh,” I would use that follow-up opportunity to introduce myself again and build a deeper connection.
Grow Relationships Through Shared a Workspace
If you have space, consider offering it free or discounted to emerging startups or freelancers. At Technews, we’ve seen how this can create a mini-incubator environment. This approach facilitates genuine friendships, valuable connections, and further monetary advantages other than rent.
It’s a proactive way to grow relationships and provide a solution to those needing workspace. This can then create a domino effect with their partners, too. Long-lasting connections can emerge from shared experiences and mutually beneficial support.
Prioritize Quality in Networking Efforts
For startup leaders, networking isn’t just about collecting business cards; it’s about forging meaningful, lasting connections. My top tip is to prioritize quality over quantity. Instead of spreading yourself thin at every event or platform, focus on fostering deep relationships with a select group of individuals who align with your startup’s mission and values.
Start by identifying key stakeholders in your industry—be it potential partners, investors, or peers. Then, engage in meaningful interactions. Listen actively to their needs and challenges, and offer insights or assistance where you can. Genuine reciprocity is the foundation of any strong professional relationship.
When attending events or conferences, set a goal not to meet “X” number of people, but to have in-depth conversations with a few, and perhaps even schedule follow-up meetings. Over time, these quality interactions will lead to a tight-knit network of valuable contacts.
Prioritize building genuine relationships rather than just collecting business cards. Networking is about establishing trust and mutual benefit. Approach interactions with a mindset of how you can help others, whether through sharing knowledge, making introductions, or offering support.
Authenticity goes a long way in building valuable connections. Consider niche events and communities related to your industry, as they often yield more meaningful partnerships. Focusing on quality over quantity in networking efforts has led to more productive and lasting connections, which have been instrumental in growth.
Seek Mutual Benefit in Partnerships
Prioritize building authentic connections and showing genuine interest in others. Attend networking events, both physical and virtual, to meet like-minded startup leaders. Engage in meaningful conversations and be a valuable resource to others. Focus on long-term relationship building rather than immediate gains.
Leverage online platforms like LinkedIn to connect with industry peers and potential partners. Share valuable content, participate in relevant groups, and interact with your network regularly.
Seek partnerships and collaborations that offer mutual benefits. Look for opportunities where both parties can contribute to each other’s growth and success. Be open to mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs who can provide guidance and valuable introductions.
By following these steps, you can establish meaningful connections and foster partnerships that contribute to the growth and success of your startup.
Listen Intently for Collaboration Opportunities
Building genuine relationships often carries as much weight as a novel idea in the dynamic world of startups. For startup leaders looking to foster impactful connections, the primary tip is to focus on listening over speaking.
In countless networking events and boardroom discussions, the leaders who left a lasting impression were those who listened intently, absorbing the narratives and nuances of others. In the age of digital communication, it’s tempting to enter conversations with a predefined agenda.
However, taking a step back and genuinely hearing out potential partners reveals immediate collaboration opportunities and uncharted territories for growth and innovation. The most fruitful partnerships are forged in the intersections of diverse stories.
Remember, while a startup’s pitch might be a passion, understanding another’s vision is the cornerstone of building symbiotic and lasting business relationships.
Leverage Academic Connections
During my time at the University of Wisconsin, I learned the immense value of academic connections. College networks are more than just classmates; they become future collaborators, partners, and sources of support in the startup world.
One of my ventures, TCG, was initiated with the help of a loan from my dad. Though it didn’t succeed as planned, the lessons and connections I gained along the way became instrumental in my next endeavors. Never underestimate the strength and potential of the relationships you form during your academic years. These bonds, built on shared experiences and trust, can lead to valuable partnerships in the business world.
Set Goals for Strategic Networking
Most startups and entrepreneurs do not network simply because they have no strategic plan to leverage their network and build mutually beneficial relationships.
When networking, one of the best things one can do is set goals for what one wants. When attending a networking event, it is beneficial to create a list of five people one wants to meet, and before meeting them, do some research to learn about the individuals one is looking to meet. With that information, note a few things one has in common and lead the conversation with that fact upon meeting the individual.
Most importantly, be a resource for the people one meets instead of approaching them as potential customers.
Follow up within 24 hours of meeting the individual, or there is a 90% chance that one will not connect, leading to a lost opportunity.
Start Small, Deliver Big in Partnerships
My best networking tip for startup leaders looking to build partnerships is to start small but deliver big. As a job board owner, I’ve seen the power of this firsthand by building a successful partnership with DoorDash.
We began by offering very cheap job ads for their delivery driver jobs. This approach allowed us to prove the quality of our leads and gradually negotiate for a higher CPA (Cost per Application). Making a great first impression lays a strong foundation for long-lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships.
Boost Networking with Memory Training
In the realm of networking and building relationships, having a great memory can be a game-changer. It allows you to recall important details about the people you meet, their interests, and their needs.
This attention to detail demonstrates a genuine commitment to the relationship, making others more likely to want to connect and collaborate with you. Remembering someone’s name, their preferences, or a significant event in their life can leave a lasting impression and strengthen the foundation of a valuable partnership.
Take memory training from an expert like Ron White, a memory expert and two-time champion. Enhancing memory skills has significantly contributed to success in building meaningful connections.
Be Strategic and Helpful in Networking
I would recommend being strategic about networking and setting clear objectives. Don’t reach out to people for the sake of it; make every effort put into networking pay off. Otherwise, you’ll get caught up in the moment and miss out on opportunities.
That’s why you should identify the networking opportunities most aligned with your goals, whether it’s mentoring, PR, or sharing of resources. Once you know your objective and the target audience, you need to choose the right networking activities and the networking strategy (networking events aren’t the only way to build a network). That’s how you can foster rapport with the individuals who are instrumental in your business growth.
Also, be strategic about your own input into the networking relationships. Helping others is the best and most natural way to build strong connections.