The first rule of “entrepreneur networking” is that you must put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Recast your idea of networking — from “here’s what I need,”– into one of humble service: “I’ve got something to give to the world, and with just a little help from you I can make my dream a reality.”
Don’t expect the world to revolve around you and what you need; find where you can contribute, and follow these 11 networking rules:
- 1. Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes: ask yourself, “why would this person want to talk to me? How can I make it easy for them? How can I make our meeting entertaining and/or educational for them?”
- 2. Do your homework, first. Take a personal inventory of why you’re seeking out this specific person, in this specific function, in this specific industry. The more specific you can be on why you want to meet them, and the more you know about this person, the more powerful your time with them will be.
- 3. Be specific about what you need. Make sure the person you’re meeting understands how a little effort on their part can make a big difference in your life. If you can’t explain what you need in a few sentences, you don’t need the meeting.
- 4. Make it easy for them. Don’t ask for lunch if a short meeting will do. Don’t ask for a short meeting if a phone call will suffice. If an email will do the job, skip the phone call.
- 5. Don’t pester. If the other person isn’t interested, back off. Ask if there’s someone else they suggest you could talk with, or something they suggest you read. Perseverance is a great character trait if you are pursuing a worthy goal, but an empty meeting is not a worthy goal.
- 6. Send a list of questions in advance. A short list of questions helps set the agenda, and shows you’ve done your homework.
- 7. Show up prepared, having thoroughly researched the company and the individual you’re meeting.
- 8. Ask questions. Your goal is to establish a relationship. Use your time to learn about the other person. Once you understand the other person, and they believe you are sincere (perhaps dedicated to the same industry), they are more likely to see you as a younger version of themselves and more likely to want to help.
- 9. Give something unexpected in return. Volunteer at their favorite charity. Pledge to help someone like yourself, in the future. Being willing to give without being asked is a sign of maturity and character…exactly what you’re working to build.
- 10. Be nice to the gatekeepers, too. Remember, executive assistants run most companies. They can be your most valuable source of information about a company or entrepreneur. See them as a resource, not a barrier.
- 11, Follow up. Always, always, always write a handwritten thank you note. Let the person know how their advice or recommendation helped.
Maybe a meeting does make sense, maybe not. If indeed you decide to go down that path, implement these 11 tips, and do everything in your power to make the interaction worthwhile for both of you.
Save face-to-face meetings with entrepreneurs for that rare moment when there is something specific they can do, at a very low cost in time and effort, which will make a big difference in your life. Above all, remember that it’s not about you. People will help you if they sense that you are on an important mission to help others and have the character and drive to make a difference.