Networking skills aren’t obvious
Networking for business is a real challenge for most of us. As an experienced lawyer working closely with startups, I probably spend at least a third of my week at networking events. I am always nervous, because I am always meeting new people that I initially know nothing about.
I will tell you a quick story to make you feel better about your own networking skills.
When I started courting startups, I used Meetup.com to start an entrepreneur group for my town. I met some unusual folks but one of my favorites was a PhD in biotechnology. The gentleman had created a cost-effective way to provide research data for the giant pharmaceutical companies. He had customers, but was a one-man band, struggling to raise money.
When I first met him I asked him what he did, which seemed like a pretty simple thing. It wasn’t. He told me that it would take too long to explain and I probably wouldn’t understand it. That was his opening line. Imagine being a potential investor and being told that.
After recovering from being startled by his answer, we talked for thirty minutes, and I ultimately helped him distill his business down to two easy to understand sentences.
We’re going to help you hit the ground running. Here is what every good entrepreneur needs to know:
Finding the Watering Holes.
Your first mission is to find the watering holes where investors, venture capitalists and their advisors gather. We need to find the money, and that requires going where the people with money network.
Start with a quick web search for venture capital forums or associations in your area. In addition to looking for websites, you should look for newsletters covering entrepreneur and venture capital events in your area.
The biggest advice I can give about seminars is – we aren’t interested in the speakers. Keep your eye on the audience for events, not the speakers.
Setting Achievable Goals.
The best networkers I have seen work the entire room. Why? You never know when the boring accountant in the corner could be the person who does the audit work for all of a major VC’s portfolio companies. Wouldn’t you feel bad if you missed talking with him?
We want to have short conversations that lead to a reason to meet again one on one. You will not sell an investor on buying your shares while he eats his chicken wing.
We want to meet new people. It’s ok to say hello to people we already know, but socialize with them only after we have met everyone else first.
Before going to a meeting, you will want to look at the speakers list and the board of directors and officer lists for the host organization. Now you can target your “must meet” people.
Schedule your time so that you arrive early and leave late. Your goal is to meet as many people as possible, so you need to arrive early and maximize your time.
Lastly, remember to keep some room available on your schedule for the week or two after the event, or you have defeated the point of going to the event.
Maximize Your Time.
Once you are at the event, focus on meeting people. If you bring your business partner, make her work one half of the room while you work the other. This will keep you from spending your time talking to each other. Using this same logic, you should avoid sitting at a dinner table with people you know.
After the Show.
When the event is over and you have spoken with all of the stragglers hanging around afterward, your next mission is to follow up with the people you met.
When you send an email requesting a meeting, keep the email short. Now is not the time to send your fifty page business plan or a three-page email telling them why they should invest. Ask for a meeting and suggest a couple dates and times to give them a choice.
Setting a networking strategy and working your plan at each event will help you accelerate your capital raising efforts dramatically.