Most people recognise the value that a strong network can bring. Many even talk about how they want to build a network, but sadly few actually get out there and actively cultivate meaningful connections.
It’s easy to understand why. Building a network can be hard. It can be time consuming. And most importantly people are often doing it wrong. Attend any startup event and often you will see startup founders bouncing from person to person. Don’t work at a big tech co, or lack connections yourself and very quickly they will move on.
These founders are in a mad scramble to meet as many people as possible, and extract whatever value they can before moving on. This is however the wrong approach. Sure you might add a connection or two to your LinkedIn account. But have you really developed a network? Could you call on that person for help or advice when you need it? Chances are the answer is a no.
Instead of approaching networking as a numbers game and asking for help first, you need to focus on building meaningful relationships and provide value wherever you can. Without tooting my own horn I have taken this approach in my career recently.
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A little over a year ago I knew no one in the tech scene. Since then I have had a strong focus on helping as many other people as I can. All for free. I developed a startup newsletter to promote great Aussie startup content, consult to startups on user acquisition, idea validation and early stage marketing for free and take any call or meeting with a startup founder to talk ideas and strategy.
This has allowed me to meet some amazing founders, share my thoughts on a startup podcast each week and even write this very article on Startup News. Does it take time? You bet it does. But it’s a passion and I absolutely love what I do. More importantly though I am adding value to the people I meet. I don’t do this with the expectation of return, but know from the relationships that I have developed that if I needed help, advice or an answer to a question I have a network of people who would be only too happy to help.
Now I understand that not everyone has copious amounts of time to spend on this each week, however, I am a firm believer that even with just 10 to 15 minutes a day you can add value and begin to build a meaningful network around you.
This doesn’t have to involve a grand plan to begin with. Something as simple as writing to another founder of an early stage startup and letting them know you are a passionate supporter of their company can get you on their radar. If you back this up with sharing their content, commenting on their blog or providing constructive feedback on their product, then you are well on your way to being a valuable person they remember.
Find those early stage founders or people who are thinking of launching a startup and say hi.
So next time you attend an event or conference spend more time listening to the people you are with, and less time talking about what you want to do. Find those early stage founders or people who are thinking of launching a startup and say hi. Listen to what they are trying to create and run through your own skill set to see if you can provide value in any way.
Even if you draw a blank on the skills front you can at the very least offer to review their product/service and provide feedback as a potential user. Not only will they genuinely appreciate that someone cared about their idea and offer to help, but they won’t forget who you are in a hurry.
I encourage you to take this approach if you have a genuine interest in developing long term and meaningful relationships. If you focus on providing value first you will be amazed at the opportunities that can present themselves. You never know who you will meet, or who may refer you to someone else.
No matter whether your dream is to launch a startup of your own, or work at another fast growing company, developing meaningful relationships will return many times the value you put out.
At the end of the day networking is more than just meeting people and gaining LinkedIn connections. Focus on developing 1 or 2 meaningful relationships a month and at the end of the year you will have up to 24 people within the industry that you can call on for help. Stick to it over time and very quickly you will have a network that most envy and wonder how you ever built.