Getting and staying financed is as much about relationships as it is about your company's performance. In my experience as a venture capitalist, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur, I've found that if your relationships are strong, you'll be given more time to improve your performance. Key to building relationships is networking. My top six networking tips follow:
1. Be aware of the impression you make when networking. When you network, are you giving or taking? "Palm-up" networking embodies the spirit of service, of giving, and wanting nothing in return. When you network "palm-down" it's about pure personal gain. Palm-up equals heart-oriented interaction. Palm-down equals greedy grasping. Which attitude results in building relationships, providing value, and ultimately bestowing benefits on both parties? You guessed it. Give to others. It'll all come back to you in time.
I go to a fair number of networking events and cocktail parties. I don't have space to list all the times I've met someone, learned their interests, then introduced them to a potential client/partner/board member or provided some other benefit. I allocate at least 10 hours of any given week to palm-up networking. As a result, I benefit from amazing opportunities on a regular basis. For instance, when I wanted to meet a Hollywood producer to talk about a project I had in mind, I was introduced to one within two weeks of setting this goal.
2. Show your appreciation for at least one person a day. Sometimes I do this via e-mail, so I can be thorough. And often, to my delight, the recipient will tell me that they are saving the message for when they need a pick-me-up. You can also express appreciation over the phone or in person. Simply tell someone how much you appreciate who they are, what they do, or whatever it is about them that moves you. They'll be flattered, and you'll feel great.
For example, tell the barista at your local coffee shop how much you enjoy the perfect cappuccino he or she always makes. Tell your spouse how much you appreciate him or her washing the dishes after dinner. Tell your staff how much you appreciate and value them for being accountable, creative, and committed. Spread the good energy around. The result will be a happier you, which means people will be more inclined to reach out to you.
3. Learn to be comfortable around powerful people. I believe we all have one unit of worth, no more, no less. No one can add to it, no one can take it away. We're all equal. Just because someone is powerful, rich, or famous doesn't mean she or he is better than you. Practice equalizing yourself with others&emdash;this will enable you to more comfortably interact with others, and to reach out to people of all walks of life.
I've met billionaires, presidents, and celebrities. Initially I'd be intimidated, until I reminded myself that we're all made of the same stuff. When I met Andy Grove of Intel (INTC), I decided to treat him as an equal from the start. The result is he has always treated me respectfully, even asked my opinion on matters once or twice. He's one of the billionaires I choose to model myself on. The more wealthy and powerful he becomes, the more gracious he treats others. Wow.
4. "Rolodex Dip." This practice encourages you to connect with someone you know randomly. First, flip through your contact database and pick a name. Then think of all the things you like about them. Now call them up to see how they are doing. They'll be surprised and delighted.
A few weeks ago I was Rolodex dipping and called a man I hadn't spoken with for several months. Talk about timing. His wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I did a little palm-up networking by connecting him with a free local support service for both cancer patients and their caretakers and also told him how much I appreciated his courage and desire to get his wife the best emotional and medical support possible. Need I say he has transitioned from being a contact to a connection?
5. Pick a sensei of the day. This is someone who has taught you a lesson or reminded you of something important in life. Your sensei can be anyone. It doesn't matter. The important thing is to acknowledge that there is much to learn and you are being offered valuable lessons constantly.
My sensei of the day yesterday was one of my company's staffers. Her calm, persistent tackling of new tasks and taking on of new challenges reminded me to do the same. The day before my sensei was the gardener whom I had fired, then rehired a year later. We have a fabulous relationship now that I've learned a better way to communicate with him in order to help him do the best possible job for me.
6. Practice the "drive-by schmooze." Parties, conventions, and meetings with groups of all sorts are great opportunities to network, but sometimes you'll be tired, not in the mood, or have too many events in one evening. This is when you'll want to use the drive-by schmooze. Here's how to do it:
a. Give yourself time limits. Give yourself 30 minutes to mingle, then determine if you need to stay any longer.
b. Set your goal. Determine the number of new connections you want to establish. Remember, your goal is meaningful connections, not simply contacts.
c. Let your intuition guide you. Ok, this may sound flaky, but it works for me! Stand near the door, in a corner, out of the way. Stop your thoughts. Silently ask to be guided to the people you need to connect with. Then start walking. You'll be amazed who you meet.
d. Connect. You'll always resonate with someone at an event. When you do, ask questions about them, such as: How did you get started in your field? Who is your ideal customer? We all love to talk about ourselves, and these questions will not only help you form a connection with this person, but will also tell you how to help them.
e. Offer help and follow through. If you can provide help, jot down ideas on the back of a business card, commit to follow up, and then do it. If you've had a fruitful conversation and want to take it further, offer to meet for lunch or coffee. People say life is 90% about showing up. Nonsense! Life is 90% about following through!
Networking comes down to creating an extended family. It's about developing connections, caring about people, increasing the size of your tribe. Most of all, networking is not the awkward social ritual many of us think it is. Networking is actually fun, and in many cases, a key to getting and staying financed.