Business Networking: Do’s and Don’ts
I have learned over the years that there is an etiquette to this process, just like there is for social networking. Here are a few of the “do’s”:
1. Join and actively participate in local business organizations. A good place to start with would be the local Chamber of Commerce. Other business groups like TiE-The Indus Entrepreneurs and EO -Entrepreneur’s Organization are places to meet people you can help, as well as people who can help you. Remember it helps to give a little to get something back.
2. Attend an annual investment conference. These events are swarming with potential investors, and this is the forum where they are actively soliciting new opportunities, so don’t be shy about handing out your business card at breaks, lunch, mixers, or scheduled activities.
3. Join the local Angel investment group. If you can meet the SEC “accredited investor” criteria ($1M net worth or $200K annual income), this is a great way to be seen by potential investors as peers before you need money. Plus you will see how the process really works from the other side of the table – the best preparation you could have for your own approach later. In most cases, these groups don’t require that you invest in others, as a condition of membership.
4. Volunteer to help out with entrepreneur activities at your local university. All universities love and need to get help from people in the “real world” for coaching and judging activities in their Entrepreneurship and MBA programs. In return, you will meet or be connected to many people who can help you.
5. Post your profile in LinkedIn, and join in relevant Group discussions. There are other networks that also work, depending on where you are in the world, like Ryze, Plaxo, and Facebook, but setting up an account on MySpace or Twitter probably won’t help you.
If all of these are obvious to you, then you are already on the right track, and you probably wouldn’t consider doing any of the “don’ts.”
1. Don’t do cold calls or email blasts of your resume to potential investors.
2. Don’t corner and barrage that heavy hitter you heard about with your life history and business plan at a social gathering.
3. Don’t send your unfinished business plan unsolicited to every VC or investment group you can find in the phone book, just to see if they might be interested in the future.
4. Don’t pass out your business cards to everyone in the room, in hopes that one will be impressed with how unique and expensive it looks.
5. On LinkedIn, don’t complain to everyone that you are limited to only 3000 invitations that you can extend to people to become your friends.
Back on the positive side I like to say, especially for us introverts, that networking is more about listening that it is about talking. Believe it or not, most successful investors have big egos, and will probably remember you better if they do most of the talking at first. Nevertheless, have your elevator pitch honed, and don’t be shy about giving it. Don’t forget your enthusiasm, and have fun. Happy networking!