When I first heard about networking from an entrepreneurial perspective and learned how networking can actually take you places, I was incredibly skeptical. Why would someone (who is probably pretty successful and themselves have a lot of connections) help me, a nineteen year-old college student? Well, I’ve recently found the answer to that question.
I don’t know much about the world of finance, where networking is supposedly very effective, so what I’m saying relates more to the world of entrepreneurship and startups. But there is a genuinely strong connection between entrepreneurial networking and the startup culture which began in Silicon Valley and has permeated the rest of the country. For those of you who don’t know, Silicon Valley is known for being incredibly laid back and, more importantly, for having an incredibly supportive and collaborative atmosphere. What this means is that when someone like me, a student, is introduced to a partner at a venture capital firm, or even someone in the executive suite of a company like Facebook or Twitter, they’re going to be very likely to help you out.
A professor in the ELS department describes it like asking someone to bail you out of jail: The ten to 20 people you can call on who will bail you out of jail are in your “network,” but then each of those 20 people have another 20 people who would do the same for them, and so with every link, your “network” increases. While some might say that your network also gets weaker with every link, I like to believe that even if it becomes a bit weaker in terms of what those people are willing to do for you, the fact that you’re “adding” more people to your network makes it stronger nonetheless. Getting a job or internship isn’t very different to asking someone to bail you out of jail. While the logistics are significantly different, you should be able to rely on someone in your network to eventually lead to your expected outcome, be it a job, internship, or even funding for your company.
Having said that, it isn’t an easy process. One of the main things is that you have to be interesting and interested. People, especially those who are successful, are always willing to help out students and give them advice — after all, people love to talk about themselves. For example, when asking your “network” to connect you to investors, don’t approach it from an, “I want you to invest in me” angle, but from an, “I would love to know what you think about business” angle. Investors love to give businesses advice on what they think is good, what they think isn’t good, what parts of your business they think you should work on, etc. This way, if you hit a milestone they set, or accomplish something they told you to do, you can always go back to them and show them progress. Showing progress is the best way to get an investor’s interest, especially if that progress was made after you implemented their advice.
Most important of all: Keep in touch. Once you’ve made initial contact with someone you think will be able to help you in the future, keep in touch with them. Make some excuse (albeit, a valid one), as to why you want to meet with them again. Ask them for further advice (if you’ve already implemented some of their previous advice), tell them you want to fill them in on your progress, etc. Keeping in touch is the best and probably one of the only ways to move someone from your “extended network” to your “immediate network.”