Does any of this sound familiar?
You had a brilliant business idea.
You spent some quality time crafting a business plan and validating your idea.
You marketed your business the best ways you knew how.
You may have even gained some traction.
Then, you didn’t know what to do next.
How do you take your startup to the next level?
I’ll be honest. Scaling your business from startup status is insanely difficult.
It’s the reason why 95% of startups fall short of meeting their projections.
I have some good news.
You can escape this bleak fate, and I’ll show you how.
Have you ever heard of the “64/4 rule?”
The rule states that 64% of effects come from 4% of causes.
In other words, many of the activities that you spend your time on are useless.
On the bright side, there are high-impact activities that can make all the difference for your business.
Your task is to pinpoint what those activities are, so you can reap the rewards.
The great news?
I’ve already identified for you what one of these high-impact activities is.
How can I be sure that it will work for you?
All the startups that succeed have this one thing in common.
All successful startups forged meaningful relationships, which allowed for a fast and sustainable path to success.
If you’re interested in doing the same, this article is for you.
I’ll share with you seven ways networking can ramp up your business.
We’ll also get into how you can tailor your networking efforts for each goal.
But first, let’s define networking.
What is networking?
Some people think networking is handing out business cards and going to lunch with business friends.
While that may be part of it, that’s not nearly the whole story.
At its core, networking is about building relationships.
It’s about getting people to know, trust, and want to do business with you.
The personal and professional connections that you forge can be leveraged to boost your business exponentially.
This can happen through both online and offline channels. In fact, the two channels are more connected than you may think.
Here’s a chart illustrating how online and offline marketing activities are aligned:
What are some activities that may be considered networking?
- Join social media groups.
- Go to industry events.
- Become part of a coworking space.
- Go to in-person business meetings and conferences.
- Partner with online influencers.
These are just a few ideas that we’ll explore later.
But let’s get into the one thing that every networking strategy needs to thrive.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ll be networking online or face-to-face.
It doesn’t matter what relationships you’re trying to forge or what business objectives that you have.
If you don’t have a compelling story to tell, you’ll be shooting blanks when it comes to communicating with your targets.
Why is your story so important?
- Stories are the fast-lane to the brain.
- Stories highlight purpose and move masses of people to action.
- Stories make you more relatable by providing context about your business.
- Stories are the most powerful sales tool.
It’s why after presentations, 63% of people remember stories and only 5% remember statistics.
How can you leverage storytelling to amplify your networking efforts?
It’s not about creating one elevator pitch that you recite to everyone that you meet.
Ideally, you should craft multiple stories.
Your core brand message should be a common theme in all these narratives.
Here’s a roadmap:
I’ll break this down for you.
Step #1: Get your story straight.
You first need to reflect and build on your brand narrative.
What do you want the world to know about your business?
Park Howell recommends using this story cycle:
Here are some of the core elements.
- Backstory: What’s your unique value proposition?
- Hero: Who’s the hero of your story? What does your hero want? (Hint: Your hero should be whomever your ideal audience is.)
- Antagonist: What objections does your hero have to your brand?
- Mentor: How will your business help your hero on their path to transformation?
- Journey: What does your customer journey look like?
- Victory: At what point does your hero win with your business?
- Moral: What are your brand values and culture?
Step #2: Learn to tell your story well.
You need to tell it in such a way that your audience is compelled to listen.
A big part of that is getting to know who will be at the receiving end of your story.
If you’re targeting prospective customers, get to know what moves them.
If you’re speaking to potential influencers, do your research.
You will need this context to deliver your brand story for maximum impact.
Step #3: Don’t neglect the data.
Here’s the thing.
There is a narrative in the numbers too.
It’s important that you use data and facts to substantiate your story.
Data-driven stories sell.
In fact, data-driven marketing has increased revenue for 57% of marketers.
Now that you’re armed with a compelling business story, let’s get into what networking can do for your startup.
1. Networking will give you more leverage with investors
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying.
“Cash is oxygen to a business.”
In other words, nothing will suffocate your business quicker than a lack of money.
Out of the top 20 reasons startups fail, a shortage of cash ranks as number two.
That’s why investors are the lifeline for many startups.
Think about this.
Investors get many emails from entrepreneurs asking for money. Every one of them promises a quick return on investment.
How many of these businesses do you think deliver?
Considering that 80% of startups fail to see projected return on investment, I’d say not many.
A big part of that failure to deliver is poor financial management.
Here’s the proof:
But what if you had more leverage?
That’s where networking comes in.
The better quality connections that you have, the easier it is to entice investors to put money behind your startup.
Here are some tips for using networking to land investors.
1. Make your contacts count. Don’t be afraid to ask your network to connect you to potential investors.
Let everyone know that you’re planning to scale up your business, and you’re looking for funding.
2. Avoid too much “sales speak.” While money is your objective, people hate being sold to.
Start the conversation with what you bring to the table. That’s where it helps to mention all your impressive contacts.
3. Leverage your personal network to power crowdfunding campaigns. Crowdfunding has gained significant momentum in recent years.
You’d be amazed at the number of your friends and family who’d be willing to back you up financially.
2. Networking will set you apart from your competitors
I don’t have to tell you how competitive entrepreneurship is.
A decent percentage of businesses fail, because they can’t measure up to the market leaders.
As you can see, out of the top 20 reasons startups fail, competition is number four.
How do you ensure that you don’t get crushed by your competitors?
It’s all about differentiation.
Networking grants you exposure for the things that set you apart from your competitors.
These are what you refer to as your “x-factors.”
- Your brand story
- Your company culture
- Your value proposition
- Your vision
These elements can’t be replicated. They will always give you an edge over other businesses.
The more you network, the more opportunity you’ll have to leverage these “x-factors.”
Here are some tips for using networking to differentiate yourself from the competition.
1. Always lead with your unique value proposition. A great value proposition has three elements.
- What problem are you solving for customers? Define the transformation people can expect to go through after using your product/service.
- How does your product/service solve this problem? Let people know what mechanism you’ll use to deliver that transformation.
- Why you and not your competitor? Tell customers why they’ll be better served to do business with you over your competitors.
Here’s a great example of a value proposition from the Dollar Shave Club.
2. Be a disruptive force in the market. What does it mean to be a disruptive force in business?
Let’s clarify by looking at Amazon as an example.
- They disrupted the book retail industry with electronic delivery of books.
- They disrupted the shopping cart concept with one-click purchase.
- They disrupted the book publishing industry with self-publishing.
These are just a few examples.
In each case, the result has been positive for the consumer.
I challenge you to tell a disruptive story.
Sometimes, it takes coming up with an entirely new business model that isn’t characteristic of your industry.
Do what it takes.
3. Networking widens your prospective customer pool
According to Jay Abraham, there are only three ways to grow a business.
- Increase the number of customers.
- Increase the average transaction value.
- Increase the frequency of purchase.
Every marketing activity should ultimately serve one or all three of these purposes.
In the early stages of your business, you will need early adopters.
While networking isn’t about sales, it gives you a great opportunity to get in front of prospective customers.
These are the people that will become the primary advocates for your brand.
As you increase your customer pool, it becomes easier to maintain that momentum and convert even more customers.
This is known as the network effect.
People depend on social consensus to make their purchase decisions.
Here are some tips for using networking to convert prospects into customers.
1. Build tightly-knit communities on social media. Social media has completely transformed the way businesses interact with their target audience.
You can build the kind of relationships that foster trust. There’s no better way to convert your prospects into customers than getting them to trust you.
For this purpose, I highly recommend starting social media groups for your audience.
Just look at how many members one Facebook group has!
This is a gold mine for attracting loyal fans.
Be mindful that you shouldn’t be overly promotional on your social media pages and groups.
That’s actually the number one reason why people unfollow a brand on social media.
2. Take your networking to offline channels where your ideal customers hang out. I’m a big fan of connecting with your audience face-to-face.
Many businesses neglect the offline channels.
This means that you can capture a larger share of the market while differentiating yourself from competitors.
3. Have a system for collecting leads. The key to successful networking is in the follow up.
No relationship flourishes overnight. Your networking efforts will be fruitless without a way to keep communicating with your connections.
The most efficient way to do this? Build an email list.
It’s super convenient to do this. You can simply set up email capture forms on your website and social media pages.
Offline, you can just as easily ask for email addresses or other personal information.
Here are some ideas.
- Give out signup sheets at events.
- Add a call to action on the back of your business cards inviting people to sign up.
- Collect email addresses of new customers during the checkout process.
- Host events, and ask your audience to RSVP with their emails.
4. Give more than you ask. Gary Vaynerchuk puts this best with the title of his book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.”
He expands his boxing analogy by pointing out that there’s “no knockout without the setup.”
In other words, you can’t convert customers without first priming them for purchase.
How do you do that?
Be three times as active in providing value to your audience than in asking for a sale.
4. Networking builds your personal brand
You may be wondering, “Isn’t this about business brand building?”
Here’s a more important question.
Can you really separate yourself from your business?
Just take a look at business giants like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon.
You don’t think about these businesses without thinking about their leaders. In many ways, their personal brands have amplified the success of their businesses.
A Nielsen survey determined that “92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands.”
Here are some tips for using networking to grow your personal brand.
1. Craft a compelling personal brand message. Your personal brand story is just as important as your business story.
While the two are connected, they’re not the same thing.
Why did you get into business? What challenges did you overcome? What are your personal values? How do these values influence the way you do business?
2. Find a mentor who’s a leader in your industry. As you connect with others in your industry, be on the lookout for people who are steps ahead of you.
The mentor/mentee relationship is a particularly powerful one.
It’s a great way to improve your knowledge and avoid costly mistakes.
To top it off, being connected to a leader in your niche will amp up your credibility and perceived value.
You personal brand equity increases. This enhances your business.
3. Distribute thought leadership content across your networks. There’s no better way to demonstrate your expertise in an area than to publish quality content.
Aim to be a subject matter expert, and your personal brand will thrive because of it.
You won’t be alone. 80% of marketers plan to increase the amount of thought leadership content they produce.
What are some of the characteristics of thought leadership content?
- Thought provoking
- Educational and entertaining
Webinars, infographics, case studies, blogs, and email newsletters are a few ways you can deliver this content.
5. Networking can elevate your PR strategy organically
Networking and PR are often used interchangeably. While they’re not the same thing, they’re very closely related.
The right type of attention from the right PR outlets can work wonders for a startup.
The relationships that you form can help to amplify your exposure and get you on the radar of the right people.
Here are some tips for using networking to scale your PR strategy.
1. Actively engage media professionals. An easy way to do this is to use a website called HARO.
It’s a network where you can form relationships with journalists by becoming their source.
Simply go to the website and click “I’m a source.”
You can then register, monitor source requests relevant to your industry, and pitch journalists.
Alternatively, you can connect with journalists offline.
2. Show off your media mentions. Media mentions are a great way to build credibility with your audience.
If you’ve been featured by popular PR outlets, don’t be shy about it.
You can place media badges on your website like Ramit Sethi.
3. Create a press kit. What exactly is a press kit?
It’s a pre-packaged set of promotional material about your business that you can give to media members.
The purpose is to get publicity for your startup.
Here’s what you can include in your startup press kit.
- Company background information
- Your brand story
- Recent media coverage
- Biography of team members
- Professional headshots
- A FAQ sheet
6. Networking allows you to attract top talent
Your ability to attract and retain top talent will have a big impact on your success.
As you forge more connections, you’ll have a larger and higher quality talent pool to pick from.
This applies both to forming partnerships and to attracting potential employees.
Here’s how you can use networking to lure the best talent for your startup.
1. Advocate for your company culture every chance you get. Ever wonder why some businesses seem to have the best and brightest people working with them?
It has everything to do with culture.
Culture is not just about the story you tell. It has a lot more to do with the way you treat your team.
Don’t forget to showcase that culture on your website and other online channels.
2. Keep an eye out for people who identify with your vision. Not everyone is going to understand your vision.
Those who are connected to that grander scheme will be your most valuable assets.
Yes, the people who handle the daily activities of your business are valuable.
But be on the lookout for “big picture” people.
They will bring different perspectives, challenge the status quo, and emerge as leaders within your business.
7. Networking success can positively impact your other marketing channels
Networking gives you influence.
In turn, that influence can be used to empower all your marketing efforts.
Here are some of the channels that can benefit from networking.
- Content marketing – You’ll have more sway with your audience. This means that you’ll be able to call more people to action as they engage with your content.
- Paid marketing – Your paid marketing efforts will improve by leaps and bounds. Why? The more connections you make, the more context you gain about your target audience. Context is critical to high-performing paid campaigns.
- Social media marketing – The more people who know your brand, the more social capital you can gain.
- Influencer marketing – You’re far more likely to get a positive response from a major influencer if they’ve heard about you before.
Here are some tips to power your other marketing channels with networking.
1. Target micro influencers. Influencer marketing has evolved over the years.
We’ve seen a shift to brands targeting micro influencers rather than the movers and shakers in their industry.
What exactly are micro influencers?
They’re online influencers with a relatively small following.
Considering that engagement decreases as fan bases grow, micro influencers can have a massive impact due to their targeted following.
Take a look at this graph showing like rate and comment rate for different fan base sizes.
Smaller fan bases have more engagement.
Micro influencers are at the sweet spot where they have a decent following with high engagement.
According to the graph, this sweet spot would be anywhere between 1K and 100K followers.
2. Have a solid content strategy.
Whatever your marketing focus is, content will be your number one asset.
Your ability to distribute it across channels will have a lot to do with your success.
First, decide what business objectives you’d like to drive with your content.
Then, create and distribute your content accordingly.
The bottom line?
If you can’t forge relationships with the people who matter most, you’ll have a difficult time scaling your startup.
A great product is not enough.
A great story is not enough.
You need to have a solid networking strategy to get your business the exposure that it needs to thrive.
If you’re not a “people person,” this can seem intimidating.
But it’s worth it to get out of your comfort zone.
As you’ve seen in this article, a world of good can come out of the connections that you make.
Go out there, tell your story, and engage the people that you meet.
Your business will be better for it.
What have you done to network your business?