A very large number of startup businesses in India owe their initial success to personal contacts. But the list of acquaintances is usually short, and that is why business networking is so vital to sustaining the future growth of any business. But networking can only bring rewards when one believes in giving, even more than taking. Business networking is the art of building relationships for mutual gain. But, like in any successful relationship, the benefits must be mutual. There are also a set of ground rules, call it “etiquette” if you like, that should be followed, if one hopes not to be shunned by the community.
If you are about to join a network of entrepreneurs choose carefully between different options. Remember that you have to take time out to participate in the networking activity, therefore, don’t sign up for all and sundry. An active trade promotion association or Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start. If your business is in a high tech field you may like to sign up with The Indus Entrepreneurs or Nasscom.
A network is of maximum use if there is synergy between the strengths and needs of the various members that make it up. Once you are on board, initially, make efforts to get accepted in. You have to take time out to be present at meetings, participate in discussions, lend support to initiatives and so on.
A lot of people rush into business networking events with a fierce desire to conquer. They’re the ones busily handing out and collecting business cards, and unsuspecting members can expect a call of solicitation first thing Monday morning! Don’t approach the network with only your interests at heart. Seek to be of use to others before you expect anything in return.
Remember, also, that successful networking demands adherence to a (unwritten) code of conduct. The best way to build rapport is to give the other person your undivided attention. Also, extend basic courtesy, and that means no interrupting or rudeness. The Indian culture is very forgiving of those who butt in when someone else is in mid-sentence, akin to jumping a queue; beware that a western audience will not tolerate this.
In a face to face meeting, the right body language is absolutely vital. We are known to stare too hard or stand too close and that can make people unfamiliar with our culture very uncomfortable. Once you’ve gotten over the ice breaking stage, prepare your networking agenda.
Having a crisp and interesting introduction ready is useful since it can lead to further questions. Be very clear on your objectives – if you seek a referral from someone, they will want to know why.
Once the event is over, go over the discussions and follow it up with a note or phone call. Large networking events rarely yield instant results; you need to stay in the game long enough before the benefits kick in. More important, if you have promised to help someone, do so without fail. Networking is one of the most effective ways of developing business and creating awareness for your company. There are several examples of startups founded by colleagues or batch-mates, which have grown to become successful companies.