My mother offered me sage advice throughout high school and college that I didn’t really take to heart until my late 20’s: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” If there’s a top 10 list of Messages to Entrepreneurs, this simple missive is my vote for #2, and it’s why networking must be just as important to you as your actual business. (See below for my #1 message.)
Except in rare circumstances, most startup businesses do not have the financial wherewithal to advertise or market to the extent that new customers/clients come to them. Even those who go the venture funding route must first prove they can get customers/clients to pay for their product and/or service. To do that without any money takes shoe leather; lots of it.
Networking is almost without question the most cost-effective method by which entrepreneurs can establish their name (personally & professionally), introduce a diverse group of people to their goods and services, and develop their first paying customers/clients. Networking, done right, creates surrogate champions of your business; people who will remember you when opportunity presents itself and are willing to make the effort of an introduction. Basically creating mini versions of yourself. But developing these relationships is no easy task. It takes commitment.
Woody Allen was quoted as saying 90% of success was just showing up. You can tell he was never a networker. Networking is a morning, noon, and night circuit that requires you to consistently show up AND engage and interact with people, all while running and growing a business. At the end of each week, you’ll look at your calendar and realize you spent almost as much time networking as you did working your business. And you know what? That’s exactly how it should be.
While time is a commodity we can never increase, it is one that entrepreneurs are in a better position to spend than the few dollars sitting in the bank. Cash is king – my vote for the #1 spot on the Message to Entrepreneurs list – and cash must be managed like the last drops of water when crossing the desert. All forms of marketing and advertising cost lots of money because they require near constant exposure to your potential customers/clients. Networking costs a little money and lots of time, but guarantees personal exposure to your potential customers/clients and champions. In a world built on connections, the personal kind is invaluable.
So gird yourself to hit that breakfast meeting, stop off at the afternoon gathering, and still make evening cocktails. Along the way don’t forget it’s all to grow your business.