Building startups is not easy. From securing funding to attracting new customers, entrepreneurs face countless challenges on their road to success or failure. But as the saying goes, it's not just what you know — it's who you know. Networking is one of the secret sauces of the startup world. Read on to find out why building genuine relationships is the key to business success.
What is a genuine relationship?
Let's start with the basics: what is networking, and why is it so important? At its core, networking is about building relationships that can help you achieve your goals — connecting with other professionals, making new contacts, and fostering long-term connections.
Networking tends to get a bad rep as being fake and transactional. But it's much more than schmoozing people up, shaking hands, and exchanging business cards. In the startup world — and the world in general — it’s building genuine relationships that really matters. And is also your key to success.
What does it mean to build a genuine relationship? It means taking the time to get to know people on a deeper level — learning about their interests, goals, and values, and looking for ways to provide value and support in their endeavours. Yes, ‘their’, not only yours.
Building these types of authentic connections gives you something way beyond an impressive LinkedIn headcount. You gain a network of trusted allies who are invested in your success and willing to go the extra mile to help you achieve your goals.
Networking tips that won’t make you cringe
How can founders make the most of their networks to help their startups succeed? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Be authentic: the most important thing in networking is to be yourself. Don't try to be someone you're not just to impress others. Instead, focus on building genuine relationships based on shared interests and values. People are more likely to want to work with someone they trust and feel comfortable with — don't be afraid to let your personality shine through.
- Be generous: building a strong network is about more than just what you can get from others — it's about what you can give. Look for opportunities to provide value to your contacts, whether it's by making an introduction, sharing your expertise, or offering feedback and support. By being generous and helpful, you can establish yourself as a valuable member of your industry's community and build stronger, more meaningful relationships.
- Be intentional: to make the most of your networking efforts, be intentional about the connections you make. Think about your goals and identify the key players in your industry who can help you achieve them. Look for opportunities to connect with these individuals at industry events, through professional organizations, and on social media. But remember, it's not just about making initial connections — it's about nurturing and maintaining those connections over time.
- Be patient: building genuine relationships takes time and it's important to be patient and persistent. Don't expect immediate results or try to rush the process. Instead, focus on building authentic connections and providing value to your contacts, and trust that the benefits will come in time.
The power of genuine relationships in the startup world
Why is building genuine relationships so important in the startup world? There are many benefits, but to name a few, here are three ways connections help your startup succeed:
- Building trust and credibility: startup world is fast-paced and often cutthroat. By establishing genuine connections with other industry professionals, you can establish yourself as a credible and trustworthy player in the field.
- Finding new opportunities: genuine relationships can open doors to new opportunities, whether it's a new partnership, a potential investment, or a new customer. By maintaining an active and engaged network of contacts, you can stay on top of the latest trends and developments in your industry, not to mention on top of people’s minds for when the ideal opportunity presents itself.
- Overcoming challenges: running a startup is full of challenges, from funding gaps to unexpected setbacks. By fostering a network of genuine relationships, you can access a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and support to help you tackle these challenges and keep your startup moving forward.
Networking for newbies — where to get started?
As an industry newbie, knowing where to start networking can be overwhelming. What are the best options for getting your foot in the door?
- Industry events: attending industry events, e.g. conferences, trade shows, or networking events, is the easiest way to meet other professionals in your field. Look for events that cater to newbies, such as meetups or mentorship programs. Also, it’s worth looking into volunteering options for such events.
- Professional associations: many industries have professional associations that offer networking opportunities, educational resources, and other benefits. Joining an association can be a great way to connect with other professionals and gain access to industry-specific knowledge and resources.
- Social media: platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter can be great networking tools. Position yourself clearly, share relevant content, engage with others in your field, and participate in online conversations, to build industry connections and establish yourself as a thought leader.
- Just reach out: we all know the book “Never Eat Alone”. Make it a habit to reach out to individuals you admire or would like to get to know better. Asking people out to lunch or coffee is a great way to really connect with new people or nurture old connections.
Networking is an essential part of the startup world, but it's not just about vain metrics or delivering the perfect elevator pitch. Building genuine relationships is the key to success but also a long game. By being authentic, generous, intentional, and patient in your networking efforts, you can establish a network of trusted allies. Allies, who are invested in your success and willing to go the extra mile to help you achieve your goals. So go ahead, get out there, and start building those authentic connections — your startup will thank you for it.