Five ways to build your start-up business network
Mark Bakker, Director of Marketing, TIMIA Capital
Building a successful business is contingent upon establishing relationships and forming a solid business network.
As a start-up, your network is a great place to exchange ideas and stay abreast of industry news. It also plays an enormous role in your growth as a start-up — a large percentage of your business growth will come from (or be influenced by) the business network that you build and nurture.
Like every relationship, business relationships involve an exchange of value so, while it’s wonderful to derive benefit from your network, it’s equally important to understand what value you provide in your interactions. The more value you bring to your network, the more referrals you will get and the more powerful your personal and business brands become.
Here’s a run-through of the top five ways to build and nurture your network:
1. Be present and engaging on social media
There’s no getting away from it. Social media networking is important and you simply must have a presence.
Firstly, use LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to follow industry leaders, influencers, colleagues, and peers to build networks of people who you know are receptive to the content you’re putting out there.
Set up your own blog or contribule posts regularly to LinkedIn or Medium. This will help you become known as a thought leader in your space. It also gives you great primary content to share on your social channels (content curation is great too). Use a free social media management platform like Hootsuite or Buffer to stay on top of your social media content and engagement.
Finally, establish or join discussion groups that are of interest to others in your industry. Create conversations and engage with members of these groups actively.
2. Use current connections to widen your network
It’s likely that you have a huge untapped network already. Think about all the people you know from school and your career to date. There is no shame in reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Be authentic, and they’ll probably be delighted to hear from you. The worst case scenario is that they don’t respond.
Once you reconnect, keep in touch in a natural way. Drop them an email every now and again, ask them how their business doing, or meet them for coffee or lunch once in a while.
This network of people you already know gives you potential access to all the people that they know, and so on. Word-of-mouth iis so important to grow your network and your business.
3. Attend (or organize) meetups in your local business community
Wherever you’re located, it’s likely that a group of likeminded people are meeting up or planning events that you can attend.
If you don’t find one relevant to your field, organize one yourself! Meetup.comis invaluable to entrepreneurs seeking to build a network. Simply start a meetup group based on your area of interest, arrange a time to meet locally, and show up. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive — it can be at a coffee shop or in the park. Regardless of where it is or how many people show up, it’s a great way to expand your local network. And who knows — there’s a chance you could meet a a future employee, a new customer, or even your future husband or wife!
4. Join industry associations
Most industries have at least one professional organization that will connect you with others in your space. These can be at a national level like the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and the US Association for Information Technology Professionals, at state or provincial level like the California Technology Council and BC Tech, or at a more local level.
To become a member an association, you usually have to pay an annual membership fee so do your research and choose carefully. To test the waters, check out some of the events that these organizations host.
Further to the industry associations, most cities and towns have a number of of business associations and chambers of commerce (industry agnostic). These are places to connect with entrepreneurs and small business folk in your locale. Why not volunteer to speak at one of their events and gain exposure for your business?
5. Attend events and tradeshows
Participating in conferences and tradeshows is a great way to nurture relationships with peers and meet new people. By engaging on social media while you’re at these events, you may even connect with some people from your social networks in person.
It can be costly to attend conferences and tradeshows as they usually involve a registration fee plus travel costs. However, many of the bigger events have special rates and innovation zones for start-ups. When you do invest, ensure you maximize the impact of your attendance by setting up one-on-one coffee meetings in advance and identifying ways to increase your participation at the event — submit a speaking proposal, live tweet coverage of conference sessions you attend, or host a lunch and learn session. Whatever you do, gather as many new contacts as you can while you are there.
This list of network-building tips is not exhaustive. As humans, we’ve never had more ways to connect and engage with one another — both on a personal and a business level. The main challenge will be motivating yourself to put yourself out there. Believe me, the hardest part is taking the first step. After that, you’ll probably find you enjoy it!
Take the first step by attending one of TIMIA Capital’s upcoming events? We’re hosting a Best in SaaS Breakfast Series to facilitate network-building among members of local start-up communities. Come join us in Toronto, Kitchener, or Vancouver this November.