“You must have a strong professional network.”
As a young entrepreneur, you are often overwhelmed with statements like this from experts with more experience. They have obviously already learned the importance of a good network in their careers and want to pass on their advice to the next generation. However, we found out that even in the world of experts there is a distorted view of what a good network is and how you should build one.
In this blog, we want to give you a short introduction to what we have learned in our journey about the meaning of networking and we want to give you some concrete tips on how you could build a strong network.
What is a strong network?
People often think that a network is about how many people you know, but actually, this is not relevant at all. Think about it, in theory, you know Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and many other billionaires, but it is not useful, because they do not know you. You can “know” many people, but if they don’t know you it makes no sense.
We draw the line a little further. Because what does ‘knowing people’ really mean? Maybe you know that colleague in another department by sight. Maybe you know someone because they happen to be in your LinkedIn connections. But would you dare to say that this person is really in your network? I don’t think so. To have a strong network, it is not enough that you know people and that they know you. You need something extra, and that is a relationship.
Within a strong network, you have real relationships with people. This can be a professional or a friendly relationship, but the point is that there is a bond. A bond of trust and understanding. Because only after you have built a bond with someone will they be willing to help you and you will feel comfortable enough to ask for help.
So then what is in our opinion a strong network?
Having a strong network means that you have a circle of people or parties who know you and your story and are also willing to help you when you ask for it.
The interesting thing is that you don’t need to have a big network. A few strong relationships will get you more than hundreds of people you have no connection with.
How do you start building a strong network?
What we have found is that there is one hard requirement. Both parties must be able to do something for each other. This can be in the form of collaboration, sharing information or knowledge, and maybe it’s even having fun. In any relationship, and this applies to your personal life as well, each party has value to the other.
So first find out what your own value is, what can you offer to others? Do you have knowledge that is in high demand? Or maybe you are just a great person to get along with, that is also possible.
The next step is the opposite, what is the value you seek in another? If you want knowledge or information in the field of cars it would be strange if you approached all people who work in education. The better you know what you can offer and what you are looking for, the more efficiently you will network.
In practice – A few ideas and concrete tips
Networking can be done in many different ways. You can attend networking events, you can go to a fair and show yourself there, but what has worked very well for us, is LinkedIn.
As we said before, networking is really about having a relationship. Being able to do something for each other is a given, the connection makes it that you WILL do something for each other.
Building a bond sounds easier than it is. Because look at it from the other person’s point of view, how open are you to strangers who suddenly want something from you? What we did is as follows:
1. Start by building a strong LinkedIn profile so that whoever you send a message has a clear idea of who you are and what you do, LinkedIn will give you tips for this. Make sure you have a clear profile picture, a good experience list, and add people to your network that you already know.
2. You search or find a person on LinkedIn who appeals to you. It could be someone who inspires you or it could be someone you would like to go in business with.
3. Add this person on LinkedIn and send a message, especially a message is important. In the message you have the following guidelines:
- Be transparent in your message about your intentions and clearly show that you are genuinely interested in what this person does. If you don’t come across as interested it won’t work, so really try to find someone who appeals to you.
- Keep your message short! ‘Less is more is the main rule in this. Try to imagine that every word you write costs a hundred dollars.
Hi (Name person),
How you deal with (Name situation) I find special! I happen to be working on this too and would like to learn more about it. Would it be possible for me to ask for some advice from you over a cup of coffee? I would love to hear it.
- When you have an appointment scheduled, don’t immediately start talking about what you can do for each other. Again, show interest first, ask about his/her life.
Dare to ask personal questions, everyone appreciates that. When the conversation goes well and you feel the right energy, then you can start talking about what you can do for each other.
Our do’s and don’ts
Because there is still a perception that networking is about ‘knowing’ a lot of people, you have the phenomenon that people want as many connections as possible on LinkedIn. Because the more connections you have, “the bigger your network”. We personally don’t think this works. When you have a connection with someone you don’t feel connected to, you will still mean nothing to each other.
Don’t: Add people on LinkedIn so you have more connections.
Do: Add people on LinkedIn who seem genuinely interesting in you and try to make contact with them.
At networking events it happens that people talk to each other for ten minutes, only tell about their work, nod yes and then exchange business cards. Do this all evening long and you will come home with twenty business cards of which you have no idea anymore which one is from whom and what to do with it. It’s not about the number of business cards you have, it’s about the quality of the relationships you make at such an event.
Don’t: nodding yes not listening to someone’s story and exchanging business cards.
Do: Show sincere interest, ask about the person, and only when there is a real match exchange contact information.
There are many ways of networking. Even we don’t know everything yet and have a lot to learn. In any case, we hope we have given you a new perspective and maybe even some guidelines. If you have any questions or want to know more, we would love to see an (interested) message on LinkedIn!
Join a strong network
Within The Entrepreneur House, we give young entrepreneurs the opportunity to build a quality network. It’s pretty simple, join the community and learn from the knowledge of others. Take a look at our homepage and who knows, we might see your application appearing soon!