If you are serious about taking your startup to the next level, then you must focus on building a professional network that can help make your startup a success. Every startup has industry specific experts that you can leverage to help you. It takes time to build a professional network, but it will always pay off in the end. Here are reasons why you need a network and how to start building one.
Why you need a professional network.
1. Every successful startup has one.
There are countless examples of how a founder surrounds himself with experts in order to catapult their startup to the next level. A great example is Mint.com. The CEO, Aaron Patzer, was an expert strategist and found investors with deep knowledge and expertise in the areas he knew he would need.
Just dive into AngelList and see the advisors and investors that successful startups have gained. The more successful the startup, usually, the more strategic the advisory board, the investors, the employees, and mentors were.
2. Your Network has a multiplier effect.
If you focus on including high value add people, then you can easily create a multiplier effect for yourself. Each new person you add to your network has their own network of strong and weak ties that you can utilize.
These strong and weak ties are the true multiplier effect. In a study conducted on job search, it was discovered that upward of 33% of new jobs were acquired via the weak tie. You can read the entire study here. Now you might not be looking for a new job, but you can make a strong argument that the next opportunity or resource can come from a weak tie.
3. You get access to new ideas, new opportunities, and new funding.
Because a startup is so fragile, continuing forward momentum is essential. With each new person added to your network, you increase the likelihood that you will find new ideas, new funding, and new opportunities.
- Ideas: A startup is essentially a bet on a new idea. This idea is usually half-baked. Every time you present your startup to a new person you get valuable feedback. Each person has a unique perspective and therefore will contribute ideas that were (more than likely) previously unaware to you.
- Opportunities: This is a no-brainer, but requires that you let people know how they can help you. In a great Quora answer, Andrew Henningan answers “What does it mean to build a professional network?” and explains that you need to demonstrate the value you provide, but also the value you are looking for. If you know what you need, people can bring those opportunities to you.
- Funding: While less intuitive, the people you know are the ones who are going to be investing in you. If you don’t know any angel investors or venture capitalists, then you better hope your network knows those individuals. If you strategically add to your professional network, the greater the likelihood you’ll meet someone who has access to investors.
4. Investors will expect to see your advisory team.
While this is something rarely spoken about, I was witness to a round of investing accomplished simply because of who the main advisor was for the startup. The advisor was a very successful entrepreneur, known for his quick growth abilities, and in the exact same industry as the startup. The startup leveraged the credibility of the advisor. Investors saw it as a WOW factor. You can see why TechStars sees How Advisory Boards Can Be Your Secret Weapon.
How to start building your professional network
Identify the strategic areas in your business
This is a fairly simple endeavor, though it is critical to your networking efforts. Identify all the components your business needs. If you are using a Business Model Canvas, then you can use the 9 blocks as a guide. Otherwise, your list more than likely includes:
- Technology Experts
- Other Entrepreneurs
- Industry Specific Advisors
If you don’t know at least one of these individuals or know where you can find one, then you now know where to start. If you do know all of these people, then ask yourself, “How strong is my relationship with these folks?” I can guarantee that you can improve your relationships with those individuals.
Start your search through the network you have now
After identifying the people you are missing in your network, start with your connectors. Connectors are people that seemingly know everyone or have been around long enough to point you in the right direction. They are also willing to provide you an introduction to individuals that can help you.
After that, start asking other people in your network if they know individuals in the areas you are missing. You can easily post a question on Facebook to reach everyone in your network quickly.
A better method is to invite individual in your network to coffee or lunch and personally ask them if they know anyone that can help you. This gives you a chance to catch up, increase your social standing with that person, and also discover if they know anyone that can help you.
If you’ve exhausted your network, then you can start to reach out to people who don’t know you. The likelihood of forming a meaningful relationship with a total stranger is more difficult, though very possible.
Create a list of people not only who can help you with your startup, but also who YOU can help and provide value. Creating a relationship is a two-way street, so remember your ability to provide value to them is just as important.
Stay in touch
Staying in touch is critical to being able to form deep meaningful relationships. If you fail to stay in touch with people, then you seriously diminish the chances you’ll be able to count on them to help with your startup.
An easy follow-up system to practice is the 1 day, 1 week, and 1-month follow-up. If you’ve recently met with someone, follow up with them at those intervals to extend a helping hand or provide a piece of new information that can help them. You check out Ryze | The Personal Relationship Manager as another tool geared toward this or find some new habit forming tools to help you build strong relationships.
If you go about strategically forming your relationships, you’ll have a professional network that will be just as powerful as the business itself.