It's no secret that networking is one of the most integral skills for success in your career. While some entrepreneurs got their start over lunch and cigar or just one LinkedIn message, others require pavement pounding and a comprehensive strategy to position themselves to connect with the right people.
When gearing up to launch a business, the relationships you cultivate can be the difference between a flaking out versus moving forward with your vision. Here are five of the most important things to remember when networking to launch a new venture.
1. Use your time wisely.
In the early phases of launching your business, maximizing your time and productivity is vital. With that said, some aspiring entrepreneurs feel pressured to spend every non-working hour of each day with networking.
Tiffanie Stanard, founder of Stimulus and We are MENT, advises against that approach. "I was the girl that showed up at every event," she said. "But that's not really networking. You're just getting a bunch of cards, but you don't even know why."
Go in to every networking event with a game plan founded on research. Know who is going to be attending, which attendees you want to meet and what you want to accomplish during that interaction.
2. Networking isn't a one-way street.
I often receive direct messages and emails from students and professionals in my industry, along with aspiring entrepreneurs, ending with "I'd love to pick your brain over coffee!" While I admire their intentions, that approach alone is not effective networking.
Before you ask to take up an hour of someone's day, ask yourself what you can offer them. "People get invited out to coffee a lot," Stanard noted. "You need to offer something to make it worth their time."
Stanard used this technique to build one of her biggest relationships to date, Microsoft. She started working with them by sending a cold email expressing interest in their YouthSpark program and offering to host an event for free in Philadelphia. Some of Microsoft's VIPs ending up attending, which allowed Stanard to get her foot in the door.
This relationship was a major turning point in her career, and it started because she offered to do something before asking for anything in return. Time is a precious resource in the business community, so make sure you offer mutual value.
3. Passion is contagious.
Perth Tolle, founder of Life and Liberty Indexes, is a firm believer that if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. "I think it's important to put your whole self out there," Tolle said. "When you start something, new people are going to think it's crazy, but you have to believe in yourself and your idea."
She was able to forge key relationships by getting others to share her excitement and buy into her vision. "I knew I was supposed to be starting this company," Tolle said. "I felt a calling, and passion for a project is contagious."
4. Get used to rejection.
Not everyone you reach out to is going to respond - and some will respond with an unambiguous "no" -- so it's crucial to get used to rejection and learn not to take it personal. "I have made so many mistakes and had so many failures and rejections," Tolle said. "Taking rejections is 90 percent of the job."
Of course, taking rejections is easier said than done, but you have to give yourself permission to fail and not feel discouraged each time you get turned away. Channel the frustration from a rejection into motivation for networking success. "I'm more motivated by rejections than praise," Tolle said.
5. Put yourself out there.
Despite the challenges, you have to keep putting yourself and company out there if you want to make it. This could mean cold calling, social networking or strategic participation in conferences and events.
If you don't live in an area that's a hub for your industry, it could also mean traveling. Tolle, for example, calls Houston, Texas home, but she's quick to admit that it's not where key players in her industry live. She spent most of the early years of her pursuit traveling to hubs like New York City and staying on friends' couches.
Networking is only successful when you are confident in your dream and the success of your business. As long as you have a solid foundation for both, networking will come naturally. Dream big, stay confident and build the types of relationships that can catapult your business toward success.