The benefits of smart startup networking

Suzanne Noble is the founder of Frugl, a hugely popular app that finds the best things for Londoners to do for under a tenner. Building up the success of Frugl didn't come through just staying at a desk until the early hours - Suzanne is a firm believer in the importance of networking for moving your business forward and getting you in front of the right people. Here are her tips for networking effectively.

When starting a new business, it’s tempting to adopt a cave mentality, spending every minute at your desk or place of work in order to achieve success. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard entrepreneurs complain that there never seem to be enough hours in the day. The implication is that if you’re not burning the midnight oil, you’re simply not going to succeed. While I do not doubt the importance of hard work, I do question whether it needs to be done in solitude. In my experience, time spent networking, with an aim in mind, is time well-spent.

My co-founder recently told me that I have a knack for uncovering the people in any room that have the most influence. While that may appear to be true, the fact is that over the past two years I have spent 2-3 nights per week attending events aimed at start-ups and people working in technology. Mostly I’ve gone on my own. It can be scary wandering into a room full of strangers, especially if, like me, you’re likely to be one of the few women there. As the old cliché goes, practice makes perfect. With that in mind, here are my tips for making sure that you make the most of every networking event.

First off, it’s all about finding the right event. Thankfully, that’s the easy part as Eventbrite and Meet-Up have now cornered the market in the B2B event space. Type ‘start-up’ or ‘funding’ or ‘employment law’ or just about anything else you can think of related to starting a business in either site’s search bar, and you’ll find an event related to that topic on either site.

Make sure you go prepared. Decide what you want to get out of the event. If you want to meet investors, make sure you have your 30-second investment pitch down pat. If you want to meet a lawyer, be able to share, succinctly, what you require them to do. Recently I attended a networking event where the host asked everyone to share what they did, what they needed and what they could offer… in 1 minute. Being able to articulate this, in a short period of time, is good practice for any networking event you might attend.

Come armed with lots of business cards. Nice business cards make a good impression and can be a talking point. I have square shaped business cards printed by Moo and when I hand them out, they always raise a smile. They weren’t expensive but they are original, stand out and, more importantly, they aren’t too big or too small to fit into any wallet.

Find out who’s attending and make a list of the key people you want to meet. Meet-Up always publishes the list of attendees and Eventbrite often do as well. When you arrive at the event, make a beeline for the host and ask him/her if they will make an introduction for you to the person at the top of your list. Using LinkedIn and Google, know enough about the key people on the top of your list to flatter them (without appearing too creepy!). I usually do a brief introduction before handing over to the person I’m meeting. It’s up to them at that point to introduce themselves and tell me something that may present an opportunity to continue the conversation.

If you’re stuck for openers, there are always the obvious questions:

  • Have you attended one of these events before?
  • Do you know the host?
  • How long have you been in the business you’re in?
  • What were you doing before?

Don’t drink too much! It may seem obvious but when there’s free wine and beer on offer, you may want to overindulge. Believe me, there’s nothing more unattractive than being the only drunk person at a networking event. It’s not attractive and it won’t earn you any brownie points.

Know what you can give. Nobody enjoys talking to someone who just appears to be a taker. A good networker is someone who knows what they can offer as well as knows what they want. It may be a contact, industry knowledge or some other form of help; it doesn’t really matter what you have to offer. What is important is that, through listening with intent, you’re able to spot opportunities to provide something in return for the help or advice you’re seeking.

Know when to move on. It’s tempting to want to talk to one person all evening, but networking is all about working a room. Don’t be afraid to say, jokingly of course, “Well I better get on and keep networking now. Nice to meet you and I’ll be in touch soon.” The same applies to people with whom you share nothing in common. There’s no rule that says you need to talk to everyone and networking efficiently is about making the right connections, not trying to break a Guinness Book of World Record for Most People Spoken to in an Hour!

Finally, follow up the next day, by email, with your important, new contacts. Put a meeting in the diary as soon as possible so the connection is not broken. Super-efficient people input all their business cards into their database and there are various software packages such as Full Contact Card Reader that, along with Zapier, allow you to automatically send new contacts a personal email, LinkedIn request or add to your CRM.

Right, now you’re armed with all my hot tips for power networking - get ready to go out and meet people who can help you grow your business!


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