MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today? is written by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of Broadband TV.
Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and skill sets, but success is as equally defined by who you know as it is by what you bring to the table. Knowing the right people helps you move things along more quickly in your business, and a trusted entourage of professional acquaintances can serve as a necessary sounding board for your most challenging business decisions. That said, not all of us are equipped with the natural charisma needed to be a good networker. So many entrepreneurs are left with an empty contact list and an uphill struggle.
Make the first move
Looking back at my early days as a 24-year-old entrepreneur, one of the most valuable networking practices that I learned
was to make the first move. After putting in the time, effort, and budget to get to as many important industry events as I could, I often found myself approaching prominent clients and thought leaders to make my work and my company known. Some conversations lasted and others didn’t, but each one served as a valuable first interaction that I would be able to build on later.
An important element to that first impression is to know who you’re talking to. Accidentally selling shoes to a cobbler can be a difficult mistake to recover from, so it’s important to do your research and ask about the business owner before pursuing any other objectives. I’ve found that other entrepreneurs are always happy to talk about their businesses, and it’s a good way to let them know that you’re not only interested in potentially doing business, but also in learning about their perspectives.
Have an objective, but don’t be pushy
It can be easy to get lost in all of the possible angles you could take in working with someone, especially at the early stages of a business. This doesn’t just muddy the water for whomever you’re speaking with, but it’s also off-putting and can make networking efforts difficult down the road.
Keep your elevator pitch in your back pocket and get a handle on your objective. Knowing it before you get to an event helps you speak clearly to potential opportunities.
Networking is a social endeavor at the end of the day, so be yourself and leave the situation open to making friends as well as connections. A good connection can really help your business, but a great connection can lead to a never-ending list of contacts for your business.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today?
Even this CEO knows it’s okay to fail by Kyle Wong, CEO of Pixlee.
How starting at the bottom gets you to the top — quicker by Frederic Kerrest, co-founder and COO of Okta.
What entrepreneurs get wrong about success by Lynn LeBlanc, CEO and founder of HotLink.
Why you should never get promoted too quickly by David Kong, CEO of Best Western.