Networking Tips for Entrepreneurs

Kim Kovacs, CEO of OptionEase ( discusses networking. Follow these five easy tips to improve your ability to make professional connections in a variety of settings.

  1. Coffee is an affordable & easy tool to help initiate conversation
  2. Provide your services in & around your community
  3. Look to your friends & family to help grow your network
  4. Offer your services rather than making a request
  5. Have clear & immediate follow-up, then schedule regular updates

So, as a serial entrepreneur, I found that networking is extremely critical in the success of your business. And there are probably a few key tips that you can do for networking.

The first one is you can always afford coffee. So, it doesn’t matter what stage you are in your company development. You may not have any money. You might have just got in funding. But you can certainly afford a cup of coffee. And it’s amazing how far you can get with coffee. So, it’s breakfast, it’s lunch, it’s dinner, it’s, you know, after conference, it’s during a conference. And so, really, you know, seeking out the people that you want to network with or, you know, engage in a conversation, offer up to buy them a cup of coffee. That’s a great way to, you know, start that discussion.

The second one I’d say which I think is a really good point for networking is that you need to volunteer. And I know entrepreneurs are saying, “You know, I don’t have anytime.”

But it doesn’t take a lot of time. And it’s amazing how you can network so you can be the snack mom for your kid’s soccer. You can volunteer to pick up the beach on a Sunday morning and to get your walking at the same time and meet people from the Surfrider Foundation. You can do things, you know, in and around your community. You can do things in and around the area of the business that you like. So, for example, we do a lot of time for, you know, equity professionals and we give back into that community as well.

Another thing I do for networking is your friends and family. They are a great source for networking so you can ask your friends or family for advice, you can ask them for people they know who are in your line of business, sort of the business that you want to go into. And it’s unbelievable, the amount of opportunities that are there when you just ask.

The second one or probably the next one I’d say is offering something. So, when you go in a network with someone, you’re looking to – some people say, I’m looking for something. You really shouldn’t be. You really want to be offering out advice just as much or offering up something. So, when you’re in a networking environment and you’re trying to connect with somebody at a certain level, I would say offer something and it could be something very simple. Maybe, you have done something in your past that they haven’ done before. And you could offer to help them with that. Maybe you’re good at Accounting and Finance, and the person you’re, you know, networking with, isn’t and you could offer up, you know, some free advice around that.

So, offering something is really important because it shows that you care, you’re engaged in a conversation and you’re listening to that person. So, it isn’t just asking for things.

Probably, the most important one too is to follow up. So, when you’re networking with someone, you’ve got to follow up with them. If they have given you their card, it is absolutely critical that you follow up and do it almost immediately. But then, on top of that, continue to follow up with them, schedule it.

In fact, I’ve got a great friend of mine, Jim, who literally puts it into his calendar every three months to follow up with me and I know exactly when it’s going to be coming because it’s like almost clock work. We go for breakfast every three months. And so, he has his -- this is his system. Everybody’s got their own but what he does is he puts little pieces of information in each meeting, just attaches it into my record on Outlook. And that way, when he follows up with me in three months, he can just say, “You know, how did that go with that business decision?” or, “How was that new venture that you’re working on or something?” So, it’s very personal and it established a great relationship with some of my colleagues.

So, I would say that, you know, networking is personal. Make it your own. There isn’t one way that works for everybody. Look at your community, look at your friends, look at your family and do it and go drink a lot of coffee.