Building a network is an essential component of creating a successful business: Your connections can lead to mentors, advisers, and even investors.
Evidence suggests diversifying your network comes with many benefits: You're more likely to find unexpected opportunities and more creative solutions to business problems. The thing about networking, though, is that people tend to connect with others who have backgrounds and perspectives similar to their own, which can make it difficult for individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds to break into circles that lack diversity.
Here are tips from founders in three different industries on how they built networks that helped them launch their entrepreneurial careers.
1. Start tweeting--but do it the right way.
More networking happens on Twitter than on LinkedIn, argues 25-year-old Gefen Skolnick, founder of Los Angeles-based Couplet Coffee. Because of the platform's more casual format, she says, it's easier to get to know someone and engage with them frequently.
"People don't realize what an absolute gold mine Twitter is," Skolnick says. "You get to peer into people's real personalities and real opinions in a more interesting format. That's what helps a lot more people have warmer connections."
To start building a strong network on Twitter, follow the people who interest you and whom you see as potential connections. Interact with their content when they post in addition to creating your own posts. The tone of your content should feel true to your personality, but keep it lighthearted when you can. Share the details of your business journey; get your audience invested in your company's success.
Skolnick's first investor and business mentor, Away founder Jen Rubio, originally reached out through a Twitter direct message. Skolnick says Rubio was drawn to Couplet because of how open she was being on Twitter and the community she was building on her account. She recommends asking questions of your audience when there's something you don't know, being available to other founders, and compiling the new things you learn into Twitter threads as ways to bring attention to your account. The network she built on Twitter, says Skolnick, is the reason she was able to quit her job and work on Couplet Coffee full time.
2. Use Instagram to show what your company can do.
As on Twitter, building connections on Instagram starts with following people who interest you and engaging with what they post. What Instagram has that Twitter doesn't, however, is the ability to visually show what your company stands for and what it can do.
"If you're showing your work, if you're a content creator, it's a résumé of what you can produce," says Bimma Williams, 35, founder of Portland, Oregon-based podcast company Claima Stories. He says it took time to build an audience, but eventually his now-mentors started reaching out because they were interested in the community he was creating.
Williams also recommends posting frequently and at a consistent time so that your followers know when to expect your posts. And don't be too "precious" with what you post, he says. Quality is important, but don't let perfect be the enemy of good enough. A posting schedule can help you maintain consistency. Set aside time for content creation, and give yourself deadlines.
3. Focus on the quality rather than quantity of connections.
Ditch the idea that you need to meet as many people as possible as quickly as possible, says Allan Jones, 35, founder of Los Angeles-based HR company Bambee. Your network will expand naturally over time if you focus on building deeper connections with a few select individuals.
Jones, for example, sets a goal of meeting only two people every time he attends a networking event, regardless of how many people will be attending. Once he meets that goal, no matter how much or little time it takes, he feels comfortable leaving.
"I never set impossible standards for myself, which means I will never be able to meet everyone who is relevant to me at the event," he says. "I set my standards to be reasonable so that the interaction can remain authentic."
Jones also says that you shouldn't get hung up too much on how a person can help you when you meet them; you should be networking because you're interested in genuinely connecting, not because you need something from that person. Jones met Nate Redmond, for example, who has invested the second-most amount of money in Bambee, when they were both working at Docstoc. Jones had nothing to gain from Redmond at the time, but instead developed the connection by showcasing his work ethic and genuine interest in Redmond.
"The relationships that sustain, no matter what category they're in, are the ones that are truly built on something authentic," he says.