Networking. If you’re like me, you hear that word and think, “Uggghhhhh…” Shmoozing and working the room is something you have to do if you’re gonna make it as an internet entrepreneur, but it doesn’t have to be such a drag. If you want to get the most (money, connections, whatever) out of your next room-working session, follow these five simple tips for networking.
Friends with benefits
Number one tip for not hating networking events? Don’t think of it as something you’re doing to convince people to give you their money. Instead, approach it like you would any social event where you’re hoping to meet cool new people. Be charismatic, find things in common, connect on a personal level.
Chances are if someone likes you–likes YOU and not just your business idea–they’re going to be more likely to call you or respond when you call them. Bring out all of the charm, but make sure it’s sincere. You’ll have better luck with the people you actually connect with than the ones who can tell you’re just putting on a show.
For the right faces, go to the right places
The meet and greets with the other hip young things in your area are awesome, probably boozy, and definitely worth some of your time. Connecting with people in your peer group is a great way to share ideas, find collaborators, and make friends in the field but there’s one problem: they’re probably as broke as you are.
If you want the money, go to where the moneymakers are. Find events that attract investors and make sure you get in there. If that means spending a little extra cash to get through the door, do it. The money you spend now for the opportunity for a little face time is money well spent.
Put aside some cash and consider it a business expense. Or, if the price tag is too high, use that charisma and talk your way in for free.
Know the person who knows people
There’s always that one dude at a party who everyone knows. Find him. Talk to him. He’s made it his business to connect people like you with people who want to help you. He’s probably standing in a corner, holding court while his loyal subjects come up and shake his hand.
Be one of those loyal subjects! This guy can cut out half of the work for you because he already has the connections. That means the work you put into becoming his friend is multiplied by however many people he’s already friends with. It’s like networking for lazy (or smart) people.
Make sure they can’t forget you
So you think you need to look and act super professional because you’re young and inexperienced? Well, yeah, you do to some extent but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring. In fact, boring is the last thing you want to be.
The obvious way to stick in people’s minds is be rocking some kind of memorable accessory or clothing item but, honestly, I think that’s kind of overdone. If everyone shows up in a brightly colored shirt, you’re all still just standing around in brightly colored shirts.
Here’s a great, unique example of how to to stand out in the crowd. When online reputation building platfrom BrandYourself was still in their early, early stages (I’m talking sandwich board signs that actually used paper and glue) they were invited to the Kairos conference in New York City. Co-founder Evan McGowan-Watson had some previous experience working with metals and he decided to put it use by creating an actual, physical brand and bringing it to the conference.
At the conference, Evan walked around with the brand in his hand (picture a cattle brand like you see in old cowboy movies, but with the BrandYourself logo at the end) and used it as a conversation starter. Everyone loved the idea and BrandYourself ended up winning an award for their presentation at the conference.
Confidence is sexy and comes with knowledge
The brand would have just been a gimmick, however, if Evan didn’t know his stuff once the conversation started. Even if your company is young, you need to know the answer the any question that could be thrown your way about what you’re doing, where you’re going, and why you’re at where you’re at.
Beyond your own company, make sure you know what’s up in the industry. Get the buzzwords down (but, like keywords, don’t overdo it) and make sure you’ve got a Who’s Who in your brain. If you don’t know the answer to a random question, come up with an intelligent way to get the information you need. Don’t get flustered: keep up that confidence!
Finding the balance between being a good schmoozer and being a schmuck can be tricky, but with a little practice and a lot of sincerity you’ll be working the room like a pro in no time.