Networking 101 for Entrepreneurs
In the coming months, there will be several key events relevant for entrepreneurs happening across South Africa. Such events are crucial for increasing your knowledge base, engaging with industry players and experts and growing your network. Whether you attend the Innovation Summit, Pathways to Funding Do-Ference, International Africa Tech Conference, Finance Indaba, or any others nationally or internationally, you need to go in with intention and a strategy. An essential component of this is fine-tuning your networking skills.
- Research the event speakers and exhibitors you are interested in before the event. If there is a chance to speak to them at the event, refer to relevant information you researched about them. For example, mentioning you read about a tech project they recently worked on and sharing what you found inspiring about it. This assists in making your conversation memorable amongst a sea of conversations and gives you some leverage and reference point when you email them in future.
- If you have Twitter, tweet about something interesting a speaker has said using the relevant hashtags. This links your name to an event and has the potential for connecting with others online and offline.
- Exit your comfort zone. If you are attending an event with a colleague, do not fall into the habit of speaking only to them. Ensure your strategy is aligned, discuss who to approach and split up; this covers a wider area, forces you to interact with more people and is great practice for speaking confidentially and independently about your work.
- Start a conversation. This can sometimes be awkward but does not have to be. If getting food, a drink or just standing around, make eye contact with someone nearby and simply say ‘ Hi, what brings you to this event’ or ‘How are you involved in this event?’. Take it from there.
- Make your conversation stand out. If you approach a speaker/exhibitor and there is a group of people surrounding them, come back later when there are fewer people, or there is no one. Engage eye contact and confidentially introduce yourself or your interest.
- Have your business cards easily accessible so if you meet someone you do not spend unnecessary time searching your bag or wallet for the right card.
- Ensure you give your business card to someone deliberately instead of placing them in a general area. This helps people connect a name with a face.
- Your business card should include a one-liner or phrase about your business. After the event, people you have given your business card to may have several others and may not remember your name or company. Having a short descriptive phrase on your business card will help it stand out, e.g. ‘SA’s first crowdfunding platform’.
- Get contact information from those you speak with or research their information afterwards. Track all contacts in a database.
- Follow up after the event, between 24hrs and 48hrs. Send an email to those you met keeping the subject line conversational and to the point. For example, ‘Great connecting with you at the Innovation Summit’.
There are various sources of information of how you can boost your networking skills. But what it comes down to is finding a way to make networking work for you. Create a system or strategy that works well for you, attend as many events as possible, practice your communication skills, and develop your network. Whether immediately or in the future, this database of people are potential partners, consumers, investors, mentors, and supporters. Gather and nurture these relationships.