How to meet other entrepreneurs and make new connections
In a recent She Built This episode, “Networking: How to Meet Other Entrepreneurs and Make More Connections” I tackled a topic near and dear to my heart.
But beyond just going to actual networking events and meeting new people, I wanted to offer some thoughts that would help us reframe “networking” to relationship-building and creating connection.
A lot of people tell me networking makes them cringe. They view networking as marketing themselves, putting themselves out there, and creating awareness for their business and brand. And while, yes, marketing is that and it can do those things for you, networking goes beyond just dropping a handshake and a business card someone’s way and sitting back watching the new business roll in…
Networking is an ongoing process, and it’s about relationship-building.
What is networking?
By definition, networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting. Networking often begins with a single point of common ground.
To further break this down, it’s clear that networking is about getting together with others, so it involves us not just sitting around by ourselves, and creating common ground (ie. connection).
It’s about meeting new people, being a resource and introducing them to new people, learning from others, discovering new resources, growing in yourself, and fostering relationships as you keep the connection going – even after the “networking” experience is said and done.
Ways to Meet Other Entrepreneurs: How to Find Networking Opportunities!
First of all, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room that not all of us are created equal. Some of us LOVE networking as much as I love dark chocolate. Some of us despise formal networking. And some of us are somewhere in between, like Goldilocks who needs that just right porridge in order to make it worth her while.
There’s something for everyone, when it comes to effective networking I promise you!
Here are just SOME of the things you can do to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and network (no matter if you’re introverted, extroverted, or some wacky combo of the two!):
- For lots of faces in one space: Dedicated networking events such as After Hours, Chamber events, BNI, young professionals events, mixers, Rotary Club, business lunch and learns, conferences, dinners, and galas, etc.
- For a more intimate approach: Be a guest on other people’s podcasts, have guests on your podcast, do a Facebook Live with someone, be on someone else’s Facebook live, hop on Zoom and have a coffee chat, meet a business colleague for a walk, attend an event together, go to a small retreat or a class.
- Virtual: participate in Facebook groups, join a virtual speed networking event, attend an online mixer or happy hour, host your own virtual event, be a part of a conference or summit, and actually connect with other attendees.
- And yep, even this is STILL considered networking: good old-fashioned phone calls, reaching out via email or text to touch base, direct messaging, Voxer, Slack, WhatsApp. These tools can be helpful to build relationships too!
I’m sure you can think of EVEN more! But these are just to get you started.
How to find places to connect?
I recommend joining a Facebook group to learn more about what opportunities are out there! I’m a big fan of “ask and ye shall receive”!
Three Things to do Before, During, and After to Improve Your Networking and Relationship-Building
- Before You Head Out the Door (or onto Zoom)
Be prepared! Once you’ve signed up and decided and said YES to a networking event or being on that call and meeting someone for virtual coffee.. what next?
If it’s an event, and you’re able to get a whole of the attendee list, it might benefit you to look it over if you can! Maybe you even go the extra mile and connect with the host ahead of time to let them know you’ll be saying hello at the event and see if they can introduce you to someone at the event.
If you’re heading into a 1:1 call, I recommend you exchange websites with each other so you can both look over who the other person is and what they do. You’ll be able to ask better questions if you already have an understanding of them and their business, and who they serve.
A little curiosity and showing you’ve done some legwork go a long way! Plus will help YOU feel more prepared and less nervous!
- While You’re There
Create connection through communication! One easy way to do this is to ask questions – good questions! Be curious. Don’t just ask “keeping busy?” or “what do you do?” ask something about who THEY are. Do they have kids? Dogs? What did they do that day before arriving to the event? What are they reading or listening to right now? Ask them something directly about THEM and you will raise their dopamine levels with a simple question!! Someone recently shared with me that she’ll often ask someone “So, do you enjoy what you do?” as a way to get them to share about what they do in a new way! She always elicits an interesting response and off goes the conversation!
Don’t be afraid to talk about other stuff that makes you YOU outside of what you do. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a fan of fun facts and icebreakers. I love finding common ground and learning the little things about people that make them tick. What if you had your own little list of facts at the ready too?! Think about what makes you YOU apart from work and tap into it for conversations! It’s fun! And you open up all kinds of connections and common threads you might not have gotten to before!
- After the Fact
The follow-up is important! Did you make a genuine connection at an event? Had a great call with someone over Zoom and want to be sure to stay in touch moving forward? Met someone in a speed networking event or in a Facebook group and want to learn more?
Follow up! There are all sorts of schools of thought on this and you can choose your own adventure. Follow up via email, phone call, connect on LinkedIn, connect on social, etc.
Figure out what YOUR best and most consistent modus operandi is and go with it.
A practice I have in place each week is to sit down on Saturdays, go through my week, and write thank you notes to each and every person I connected with 1:1. Whether they asked me to be on their podcast, they were on my podcast, we got together for coffee, or we connected via Zoom, I write them a handwritten card to let them know how much it meant and I try to include something pertinent to our conversation.
You don’t need to sit down and handwrite thank you cards, but I do recommend you follow up with people in a way that works for you.
And then, don’t be a stranger. You don’t need to call and text them every day, but if something pops up in the news that relates to what you talked about, or an event comes up that you think they should know about, let them know, “Hey! This made me think of you and our conversation!”
What Can Happen When You Decide to Network
Realistically -pretty much anything can happen from networking. I got my dog, Clyde, from a networking event.
One morning, I was exceptionally early to my BNI meeting and standing outside the doors at 7:30 or so in the morning. Brandon, in my group, who I’m pretty sure was as nervous as I was decided to strike up a conversation with me.
“Are you guys looking for a dog?” Brandon asks me.
“No, not right now,” I said (and by “not right now”, I don’t think the thought ever crossed my mind), “But I’ll keep my eyes out for someone who is if you want!”
Brandon flipped open his phone and proceeds to show me some pictures of this dog, Clyde, and starts telling the story and I was like…
“You know what, I think we ARE looking for a dog, actually.”
I’ve heard people meet their significant others, I’ve heard people get clients, make their new best friends, I once won an awesome pair of Ray Bans…
You could walk away with a brand new possibility or opportunity!
In short, you just never know what can happen!
But you can almost bet your bottom dollar it’s more than what’ll happen if you don’t step out and meet new people!
You just never know who you’ll meet, where you’ll meet them, and where it could take you! Sometimes the best connections are unexpected ones! And you never know where that call, coffee chat, zoom meeting, or event will land you.
((Maybe you’ll even go home with your next best human or furry friend!))
If you’re looking for a networking opportunity that also gives you business growth and a super collaborative spirit, I welcome you to come join us over in the FREE She Built This community where opportunities to meet fellow entrepreneurs and build relationships abound!