By Jerred Ziegler
Networking can be intimidating. The idea of walking up to a stranger and asking them for help, especially at large events where you are one of 100 people looking to do the same thing, can be daunting. Even as the founder of a successful startup with a powerful network of business leaders, Tanisha Robinson still gets nervous before these kinds of events.
Robinson founded Print Syndicate in 2012. She worked closely with Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier, to build a network of investors that allowed her to raise her first round of funding. Three years later, Robinson says she still relies heavily on her network, especially when unexpected issues arise.
“Networking is just as important for those entrepreneurs with established startups as it is for those who are just starting their new company,” said Robinson. “As Print Syndicate continues to grow and gain complexity, I ask my mentors for advice, insight and introductions all the time. Having a good network helps you keep moving forward.”
She offers the following tips to entrepreneurs who are ready to start building their network.
Be Authentic. It’s essential to engage in authentic interactions, where you approach the conversation with knowledge about the person you’re speaking with and how they can help you. Don’t try to sell your product to those you’re networking with. Instead, focus on making the most out of that first interaction. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a casual, friendly conversation can lead to mentorship.
Be Specific. When you’re looking to build your network, know who you want to talk to and what you hope to get out of a five-minute conversation with that person. Some business leaders are known for building amazing cultures, some are known for their phenomenal operations, others are known for their legendary customer service. Figure out how that person can help you and target the interaction so it’s a good use of their time and yours.
Be Prepared. Before you talk to a business leader about being your mentor, know how that person will be helpful to your company, or if you’re just looking to talk to them because they’re successful. They’re busy and looking to mentor people they believe have potential for success. Prepare your talking points in advance so that you’re having a focused, intentional conversation. Bring specific questions or problems to the table that your mentor can help you with.
Be Generous. Mentoring is a two-way street. If you’re an entrepreneur who is now successful thanks to great mentorship, pay it forward by becoming a mentor yourself. You’ll be surprised to find that mentoring is a mutually-beneficial relationship and that new entrepreneurs can give you a fresh perspective on the startup world. It’s easy to settle into the role of CEO and lose some of that hunger you had when you first started your business. It’s not because you’re less motivated, you’re just much busier. I’ve found that my relationships with new entrepreneurs keep me on my toes and constantly hunting down fresh and innovative ideas.