Startup Lessons is an ongoing series where Lioness Founder Natasha shares tips as she continues her journey in startup land.
Startups are all about people. You need people to make the product and you need people to buy the product. When I first started Lioness Magazine, I was a former news reporter who had started working at a small, local nonprofit that was dedicated to bringing volunteers into the school district. In my new role, I was in charge of business partnerships which meant most of my time was spent outside of the office trying to create meaningful relationships.
In order to do that, I had to meet people, learn about their needs and see if there were ways I could help them with their charitable interests while helping local students. One of the best skills that came from being a news reporter, was the ability to interact with complete strangers. It’s helpful in breaking the ice during networking, if you’re a new person in a new city looking to make friends or a new employee on the job. No matter the scenario, learning how to build relationships is key.
After reading Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone,” I began to have lunch once per week with someone I didn’t know. Maybe I read about them in a cool news story or another business associate mentioned them in conversation. I’d send them an email to say, “I would love to grab a cup of coffee with you.” This is who I am. I’m not selling you anything or looking to buy anything at this time. NO ONE EVER SAID NO. Why? Because we all want to network. I didn’t do it to build a vast rolodex. I did it because I wanted to meet cool people doing cool things and maybe down the road, we could do some cool things together.
Providing news to women entrepreneurs was an easy process for me to wrap my head around because I had been in the business of writing news for years. Successfully launching a startup and learning how to transition it into a thriving business was another story. So I started networking with purpose. I surrounded myself with people who owned small businesses, launched startups or ran organizations that benefited entrepreneurs.
What ended up happening is that whenever I had a question along the way about something I didn’t know, I knew someone who could give me the answer or refer me to someone who could.
So how do you create your own meaningful circle? You have to find like-minded individuals and introduce yourself. Your connections should be diverse and span various industries: money people, marketing gurus, solopreneurs, politicians and educators. Here are my top tips on how to meet the right people:
- Go outside your normal networking circle. When I network, my first priority is to meet with someone that shares no mutual contacts with me. It means that I am opening myself up to an entirely new circle of people.
- Stop thinking of networking as a local thing. I don’t let distance stop me. I reach out to people via email and ask for a brief phone chat. With no physical boundaries, I am able to build connections across the United States and in other countries easily. Some of Lioness’ best partnerships started out with a simple email.
Here’s a sample cold email inquiry (you do not share mutual connections) to give you an idea:
Good afternoon, Joan,
I recently came across your article in Town News and love the work you are doing with Very Awesome Communications! I am the founder of Lioness, the leading digital magazine for female entrepreneurs. I love learning about amazing people in the area who are doing work they are passionate about while impacting the local economy and their respective industries. Please let me know if you’re open to grabbing a cup of coffee in the next two weeks. I’m really interested in learning more about Very Awesome Communications.
With regards, Natasha
Here’s a sample warm email inquiry (if you have mutual contacts) to give you an idea:
Good afternoon, Joan,
My name is Natasha and I am the founder of Lioness, the leading digital magazine for female entrepreneurs, based in Western Mass. We share a few mutual connections and a number of them keep mentioning you and the awesome work you are doing and I would love the opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and learn more about Very Awesome Communications. I kept forgetting to send you this email and I was determined to get it out today. So please let me know if you’d be interested in an informal introduction over coffee. I have a few times open in the next two weeks and would love to finally chat with you if your schedule allows.
Look forward to hearing from you.
With regards, Natasha
- Networking is not a numbers game. It’s a relationship game. It’s not about the number of people you know. It’s about the quality of relationships you build. One of the best questions an entrepreneur can ask another one is: “How can I help you?” You might be able to connect them to a valuable resource, make a great introduction or answer a simple question that has been plaguing them. I’m not talking about giving away all of your graphic design secrets if that’s how you earn your living, but you may be able to suggest a simple design platform that helps them with very basic needs. People never forget kindness and it can later benefit your pockets via referrals or purchases when they have the money.
- Stop being afraid of being “the only.” Don’t turn down events or opportunities because you may be the only woman, the only person of color or the only blue-haired person in the room. In order to change the demographics of anything, someone has to be the first.
- Do more listening than talking. A lot of people will say “duh” to this one, yet still I have met tons of people who railroad conversations. Engaging is a two-way street. Ask questions. Listen to the answers.
Remember, for warm introductions, you could also have mutual contacts introduce you. Still, aim to meet people who do not share mutual connections. Ask for warm introductions to new circles for each cold introduction you make. What are some strategies you use to network? Tell us and your fellow startup sisters.
Photo courtesy of NanPalmero [FLICKR]