If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, the one skill that you should start honing (if you’re not already an aficionado at it) is being a great people-person. Not to say that introverts can’t be incredibly successful entrepreneurs - because they can - or that you have to learn to like everyone - because you won’t - but it’s helpful in every aspect of starting a business to develop a strong network of human beings. I don’t recommend going up to every stranger on the block to chat them up but I suggest that you make an effort to take an hour a week and go to a meetup, social, startup gathering etc. and meet one new individual who you can potentially add to your professional network. Knowing people who know the right people can help you to find customers, co-founders, resources, investments, contacts and much more.
Here are the three best places to get your networking started:
1. Use Online to Get Offline
Every couple of days the tool Meetup, sends me reminders of potential events in my area that I’d be interested in. If I’m feeling brave I’ll even do a search for meetups that are specifically catered to wannabe startup founders and the like but more often than not I’ll attend a meetup if someone I know is hosting, there’s someone I know who’s speaking or if the startup event has a very compelling agenda (Business Plan 101 or Coding for Beginners). I’ve learned a lot and met many great people who have since ended up working with me, buying my product or recommended my offering to an “investor friend.” Take a pal with you if you’re attending a meetup for the first time because it can be daunting to walk into a room full of new people. But if you’re a smart entrepreneur, you won’t think of a gathering of strangers as a reason to run and a hide but an opportunity to show and tell. Other great tools to find meetups are Facebook Events, LinkedIn Events, and Eventbrite.
2. Volunteer Your Time
Last summer a friend mentioned to me that she wanted to quit her uninspiring desk job in corporate advertising and fulfill her dream to work for the environment. Unfortunately she had no idea what she wanted to do or, as a resident of NYC, how to get into the industry. I suggested that she go volunteer at a rooftop organic garden in Brooklyn and literally “get her hands dirty.” Once she started nobody could stop her. Over a short span of a few months she was gaining invaluable experience in the industry she wanted to work in and she was meeting all the right kind of people - from environmental studies majors with cutting-edge ideas to growers, farmers, local food vendors etc. If you’re looking to meet like-minded people in the field you want to break into, I recommend that you go and volunteer on the weekends; you’ll expand your network in no time.
3. Mix Pleasure with Business
The one thing that brings people together is food, or baseball or cult films. What I’m saying is that you don’t have to do your business networking in only professional settings. Everyone, even the most industrious, blackberry-touting, skyping-colleagues-on-the-run, businessperson has a hobby. If you can attend fun social events but still meet people who would later be a great company contact, all the more better for you. For example: if you have a friend who knows someone that you’d potentially like to work with, ask your friend to host a small potluck where you can meet them.