The saying “no man is an island” is especially true in business. One of a business owner’s most important tools is a list of other businesspeople who can serve as mentors, partners or clients. In order to build such a list, entrepreneurs need to network.
Forming business relationships with strangers can be initially difficult for entrepreneurs who are new, introverted or unfamiliar with the local business scene. Thankfully, breaking into that scene and forming those relationships is simple if done correctly. Entrepreneurs who follow these five steps will soon be networking like professionals.
Get in contact with local organizations
If an entrepreneur doesn’t have connections, joining a local networking group is a good way to start. These groups not only host networking events but also set up one-on-one meetings between companies that could help each other. Anita Williams, vice chair of Indy Black Chamber, remembered when the chamber introduced an event planner, a caterer and a balloon designer to each other, and they began collaborating on parties.
Some groups represent local business in general such as the Indy Chamber. Others appeal to certain niches. African American business owners can contact the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce or Indy Black Millennials. Manufacturers can join the Indiana Manufacturers Association, and convenience store owners can join the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.
Have a goal in mind
When a business owner attends a networking event or meeting, it can be easy for conversation to drift away from business to random topics. Before they begin, business owners must ask themselves the question, “What am I trying to accomplish?” The question’s answer should guide the networking.
Bunmi Akintomide, founder and president of Indy Black Millennials, said if he wanted to know about real estate investment, he would attend a real estate conference and speak with investors. Whenever Akintomide found an investor, he would inquire about how he or she performed the job and try to schedule a follow-up meeting.
“I would follow up with an investor because we both match,” Akintomide said. “That’s what I’m looking for.”
Talk about your skillsets and accomplishments
Networking is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs to sell themselves to others, so making a good impression is important. In order to convince others of their worth, Williams recommended entrepreneurs avoid talking about their future plans and focus on the skills they have and use their accomplishments as proof of those skills. Proof is more impressive than promises.
“I need to know what you can do currently, and that’s going to need to be your strong suit because I’m going to ask you to prove it,” Williams said. “I want to see proof of it, and if [your topic of conversation] is something you are thinking about in five years, then you can’t prove what it is you’re doing now.”
One of the best ways entrepreneurs can prove they are interested in what someone has to offer is to stop talking, listen carefully to what others are saying, and repeat it back to them. It will create a true conversation instead of giving the impression the business owner is just waiting to talk.
Careful listening also helps entrepreneurs realize if they are able to meet the person’s needs or vice versa. Entrepreneurs can save themselves and the other party time by saying they can’t help and possibly offer the name of someone who can.
“The thing about networking is that it’s not just for you,” Williams said. “You’ve got to be a resource for others as well.”
After a business owner has attended a networking event, conversed with a potential contact and exchanged contact information, the networking isn’t over. Akintomide said the biggest mistake networkers make is not following up, which wastes all of their work. In order to capitalize on new relationships Akintomide recommended following up within a week of meeting a new contact. The follow-up could be anything from a formal business meeting to an informal chat at Starbucks, as long as it keeps communication going.
“I want to emphasize the follow-up,” Akintomide said. “That’s very important because if you don’t follow up when you meet somebody, [networking] doesn’t go anywhere. The conversation just dies.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.
To begin networking,
consider contacting the
Indy Black Chamber
Indy Black Millennials
Venture Club of Indiana
Indy Business to