Most entrepreneurs know that networking is vital to entrepreneurial success, especially with early-stage companies. Businesses are essentially built by networking, but how do you thrive alongside the rapid digitization of marketplaces with established players? Befriend the big players, we say!
During a Startup Boston Week 2020 panel: Your City, Your Resource: What's Available to the Startup Community in Boston?, four Boston-based entrepreneurs covered four main questions and answers on effective networking:
Where do you start networking as a founder?
How do you identify the people and the resources that can help you and your company’s growth?
Where and how can you, as an entrepreneur, access these resource channels?
How do you overcome foreseeable challenges?
An intrepid founder out to exchange cards and evangelize their big idea.
Start From Scratch
Put Yourself Out There
Based on Forbes, research shows that the more networking founders engage in, the higher the chance of having a positive return in terms of revenue growth.
While it varies by industry, joining networking events is a way to meet people who could be potential customers. “There is a very delicate balance of choosing to network at events and what you are hoping to get out of it and your tactics to get there versus building the company,” said Simon LaPray, the Executive Director at TiE Boston. Your time is a finite, and valuable, resource. Leverage event platforms like:
Or any referral network events: get connected on LinkedIn and through trade organizations.
Join A Workspace/ Accelerator
Joining a workspace or accelerator program can help founders build a business structure. In the meantime, you will meet other entrepreneurs that share a similar path as you. “The big corporate world is a different kind of feel than when you are in the startup community asking for help. There are a lot of very senior and successful entrepreneurs willing to give you time to help you generate your ideas,” said Charles Hadsell, the founder, and CEO at ePropertyCare.
Maintain a Professional LinkedIn Profile
“As you are looking to raise capital, people are looking to invest in you. So you have to build a relationship with them,” said Bridgette Wallace, the founder at G | Code House. The Boston startup community favors the referral network, and LinkedIn is heavily embraced as a tool to connect. People like to see who this person knows, or what type of program they are in. Make sure your LinkedIn profile tells potential investors and customers a unified story, and do the same on startup-favored networks like AngelList.
“For me, building a business with community and network at the core of it, I’ve been told so many times I should be a non-profit. People have tried to push me into a certain direction because they don’t see networking as a self-contained business,” said Sheena Collier, the founder, and CEO at The Collier Connection, as she successfully launched her business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It can feel isolating and lonely when you start a venture. Find groups and networks that are on similar paths as you. It is important to have a safe and nurturing space to unload the burdens that you are carrying around while learning from your colleagues' experiences.
Learn Through Experience
Surprisingly, many entrepreneurs don’t have a business background. People often have to learn along the way how to make business decisions. Accelerator or founders' programs can often help and give a foundational understanding of business to especially founders coming from different disciplines.
Don't Force Yourself Into in the “Boston Startup Box”
The Boston startup community favors companies that are technology or digital health centered. If your company is trying to do something like cosmetics or retail, you might find operational support but not the investors. So, don't be afraid to look outside of Boston to places like Austin, Denver, or Columbus!
Build Your Online Community
Building an online community with your audience could be challenging, but it can be achieved through hosting different events and encouraging the audience to participate to create a sense of community. Companies should take advantage of polls and feedback from the audiences.
The founders recommend the following incubator programs as they offer fantastic resources with deep local expertise. They offer frameworks that are applicable for both tech and non-tech startups, and really reside in the education space of our community. They are constantly hosting events to help people navigate and get more involved in the investment community.
Finally, consistency is a key component to the growth of any effective networks and successful business. “Consistency raises your visibility as a founder: such as serving on panels or writing LinkedIn articles about the topics and in the places your audience expects to find you. For me to position myself as a thought leader in my space: it has brought more resources for me,” said Sheena.
Get yourself out there, dwell in spaces that feel authentic to you and your mission, and a community and brand will emerge organically.