[This is a guest post by Gautam Shewakramani, Founder & CEO of AudioCompass.]
I hate “networking”, especially in the traditional sense. I’m sure you do too. Going to conferences and events, handing my business card to people, making small talk and then following up to see if there’s a way to do business together. I feel that it usually never works and if it does, the upside is just not worth the time and the false leads. I rarely do it.
Despite that, my friends and colleagues tell me that I am a good at business networking and when Vijay asked me to write a guest post on Business Networking tips, I figured it would be a good time to think through and articulate a few best practices for business networking that I follow.
1. Figure out which network will work best for you and tailor your request to be relevant
Don’t assume that every network is one that can be leveraged for every “ask”. People assume that they will have the highest probability of success when they start tapping their biggest, widest and most influential network. I find it more effective to target my request to a network that’s naturally relevant or tailored to be relevant to my ask, even if its smaller. For example, when looking for early adopters to give me feedback on the features and usability of the AudioCompass Guide Android & iOS , I reached out to folks in my network of other start-up co-founders and travel enthusiasts instead of sending an email blast to my MBA or high school class list. Why? Because this group, while smaller, was far more likely to be experiment with a new product and help me out with valuable feedback. I made my request relevant to them by asking a simple question – “Do you want to help me change the travel experience in India?”
2. Stay current with whats going on in your network
The foundation of your relationship with people in your network is having something in common – from attending the same conference, having intersecting groups of friends or even from attending the same college. It’s extremely important to stay current with what’s going on in the network. When reaching out to people in your network that you don’t know personally, it’s this information that will help break the ice and start a conversation. It’s not hard to do – I follow MIT and Notre Dame on Twitter & Facebook – and my work and angel investing keeps me reading techcrunch and other start up related news, to name a few. It doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes a week to get up to speed on what’s going on in your network.
3. Be clear on what you want and know the limits of what you can ask for
This is more an art than science. People in your network are willing to help you within limits and that limit is different for different people. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this, there’s nothing worse than someone I barely know asking me to extend myself. It’s best to think of your network as there to give you advice, guidance and a little bit of direction – you can ask but don’t assume anything else. I have found that the best way to figure out if your request is appropriate is to first be clear on what it is you hope to gain from speaking to or connecting with someone from your network. Then ask yourself if you would be comfortable doing the same thing the other way around? State your request clearly – and remember that read between the lines and accept a refusal of your request with grace.
4. Give back to the network [if you’re only going to read one best practice – make it this one]
This is by far the most important best practice. Business networking (or any networking, for that matter) is more about you helping others than them helping you. When you meet people, think about how you can help them and be ready to offer your assistance. It’s not a one way street and I’m a firm believer in what goes around, comes around. It’s ironic that I am saying this – but the best way to apply this mindset is to not even think of your interactions as networking – think of them as getting to know someone else’s business interests and being ready to help. I recently received a cold email from a company looking to raise angel funding for a food-truck business in Delhi NCR – a business similar to one that a girl in my yoga class is trying to start. I immediately responded to the sender letting him know that while the investment wouldn’t be a fit for me and introduced him to the girl in my yoga class offering them a forum to exchange ideas and experiences. Neither of those businesses are relevant to my business interests but I’m sure that both will at least remember me from this interaction, if nothing else!
1. When you meet people, spend more time thinking about how you can help them, rather than how they can help you – and if you come across something or someone that may be helpful to them – send it across or make the introduction
2. When you do need help, make sure you target people or networks where your request is relevant
3. Be polite, direct and be willing to accept less than what you asked for or nothing at all
The author, Gautam Shewakramani (@gshewakr ) is CEO & Founder of AudioCompass | @AudioCompassIND . AudioCompass helps you explore the stories of India by turning their smartphones into personal audio tour guides. Gautam is also an active angel investor [disclaimer: Gautam is an early investor in Exotel] and got his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.