You can find the accompanying podcast to this post here.
One of the most important pieces of advice I give to prospective student entrepreneurs is the importance of networking. For the young entrepreneur starting on their journey, the path can be somewhat lonely, especially if the early venture involves only themselves. Networking both online and offline can allow us to build the portfolio of people we know, who we can trust and who can help our business in the future. Don’t forget however, this ‘can they help’ should work both ways when building a successful relationship. How can you help them?
Having the correct relationships can allow you to build your business faster and in a more constructive manner. Finding the connection, however, is only the start of what networking is all about. It takes time to nurture and strengthen relationships so they can prosper and produce desired results.
For the would-be entrepreneur, especially if one is young the current network available may amount to friends and family, possibly academic tutors or those who you have worked with in part time positions. This is an excellent stating position and that trusted relationship you have with those people will likely allow you to gain access to additional networks through your original connections. Never be afraid to ask a trusted connection if they know somebody that could help or offer advice.
This said, to build a successful business requires much more expertise than is likely you will have immediate access to. Your network ideally should be full of experienced professionals and those beginning their journey who hold diverse units of knowledge and skills from various sectors. If you are running a retail coffee unit for example, we need more than people alongside us who love and live coffee!
Networks will take many forms, today we connect via social media to many thousands of people, however this network is very connection based rather than at any deeper level, so to build true relationships one must actively engage rather than simply observe. I use the LinkedIn platform to regularly to share my own thoughts and views, however, remember to engage with others is to show interest and begin to be part of new conversations, it is this engagement that will lead to trust, understanding and deepen business relationships.
To build local connections you can start with your own regional business community which depending on where you are based maybe established or fledging. Simple Google searches will allow you to find out locally what is going on in your area and how you can get involved. My experience is that established networking groups love ‘new blood’ and as the aspiring student entrepreneur your input is valued and respected often bringing new ideas to the table and being disruptive (nicely)!
The online community of entrepreneurs is growing month by month, it’s well worth looking into this world to find a community that you recognise and would like to be part of. To that end here are two organisations I would recommend exploring to find out about the online and offline opportunities that maybe available to you.
Startup Grind is the largest independent startup community, actively educating, inspiring, and connecting more than 1,500,000 entrepreneurs in over 500 chapters.
There are local UK chapters based out of Thames Valley, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Southampton, Wolverhampton, London, Bournemouth and Glasgow.
There isn’t a chapter in my home city of Liverpool- perhaps I should start one?
Creative Mornings is a free monthly breakfast lecture series, designed for creative communities. There are currently over 200 cities hosting these networking opportunities globally.
Locally within the UK you can get involved in cities such as Birmingham, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Portsmouth and Sheffield.
I hope this blog post has been useful and remember, its not how many connections you have which makes a successful network, its how well those connections are utilised, so always follow up on connections and keep engaging in conversation. A simple ‘nice to meet you’ or ‘thanks for your time’ by email / twitter etc may just be the start to a fruitful relationship. Be polite, be giving and build your network.