Take it from me, the saying is absolutely true: In business, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you! Don’t let your entrepreneurial journey be cut short by your hesitation to meet and align with new people.
When it comes to networking, I have no shame. I believe in recognizing your opportunities and taking advantage of them. Life favors the bold and you need to have this mindset when you are a business owner. I will interrupt conversations to introduce myself. At the last conference, I attended during the main panel discussion in an audience of maybe 1000 people, in between panelists I walked right up to the VIP table and sat down so I could meet the individuals that were just honored. I didn’t even think twice and you can’t because if you second guess yourself you’ll miss the opportunity. One of the best decisions I made during that week. I got a chance to speak with all of the honored panelists which are leading to great opportunities I wouldn’t have had.
Networking is all about putting yourself out there which can be very uncomfortable. I used to be an introvert when I worked in corporate America. But that personality won’t put food on the table when you own your own business. And it’s entirely that serious and direct; saying that you won’t put food on the table if you don’t network. Please understand that no one is going to come and find you. I learned this first hand at Morehouse College my freshman year. I worked hard and achieved a cumulative 3.8 GPA but hadn’t done the work to secure an internship. I went to Mr. McLauren in the business department because I didn’t understand. He merely told me that “No one is going to come find you and your good grades! You have to inform people of the work you have done.” So because I hadn’t done the networking needed I didn’t secure a corporate internship that summer and instead worked at the movie theater. Lesson learned.
There are a few things I would like to suggest when talking about networking. Having the confidence to walk up and interrupt people is the first step but when you interrupt people you better be prepared and impressive. Extremely impressive. There’s nothing worse than wasting someone’s time because you weren’t ready to speak about what you have to offer. So you have to have your elevator pitch ready. Here’s what goes in an elevator pitch:
1. Your name and company name
2. What your company does in 1–2 sentences
3. Your traction (how long you’ve been in business)
4. Current results (revenue, data, users)
5. Where you see your business going
6. Give them your business card and ask for theirs
Now, all of these points don’t have to be said at the same time because it can become a dialogue. I like to say my name and what my company does and look for a reaction from who I’m talking to. That usually lets me know if they’re interested enough for me to continue. I like to think that I have a 10-second summary and then a 30-second elevator pitch. It’s best to have both ready.
Next networking is a bit of an art form. There are times when you need to be aggressive and run up to people and then there are times when you have to have the patience to wait until they are finished. Have some discernment with this, trust your gut. It won’t lead you wrong. I’ve had to sit and wait for 45 minutes for a meeting to end before I walked up to introduce myself. Another essential factor to networking is being likable. Having a nice personality where people can sense your passion is a good thing. Smile when you introduce yourself but it shouldn’t be fake. From what I’ve seen everyone is willing to network with you as long as you don’t come off as a jerk. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of know when to be forceful to meet some and having patience. I learned this through trial and error. Everything takes practice.
In summary, no one is going to come and find you and your good work. You have to put yourself out there to meet people you don’t know who are outside of your current networking circle. That’s how you move the needle in your business. Be confident and secure, you’ll be grateful you networked.