The first few months (or even years) of your startup are some of the hardest — and the most critical. It’s during the early years of your fledgling business that you’ll develop the foundation you need for a successful enterprise. Part of that effort is building awareness of your startup by networking.
Michael Hiller — an Arizona alumnus and president of Hiller Enterprise, a California-based taxes and investments firm — knows too well the importance of networking a startup. After branching out from the family business and spending time in the banking and real estate investment industries, Hiller saw the need for financial services beyond taxes, especially among millennials, and launched Hiller Enterprise. In the years that followed, Hiller invested time to grow his business, from working with mentors to attending in-person networking events — as many as 120 in a single year!
Here, he shares what he’s knows from growing a successful business to help you learn how to network for a startup successfully.
Network with Intention
Networking events, both in-person and online, are great opportunities to make fruitful professional connections. That is, if the connections you’re making are meaningful. Rather than leaving an event with a stack of business cards, set a goal to meet a minimum number of legitimate connections — people you’ll reach out to in the future. That’s what Hiller did.
“I made sure that at each event, I had five people I could contact — not just five business cards,” Hiller said. “It was just five people that I was able to take from that event and send an email after and contact them. I would reach out right after the event and say, ‘Thank you for meeting me. It was great meeting you at this event.’”
You don’t know what you don’t know. But a fellow entrepreneur might know what you don’t know. Why not ask them to share their expertise? Hiller advises researching the people in your field or in the field you want to be in. Then, reach out. “Really it's just about reaching out to someone who did what you want to do and saying, ‘Hey, can I get 20 minutes of your time?’” They might even give you a personal email or make a phone call right on the spot, he says.
Transparent communication is essential when you’re trying to grow professional connections. Being direct about the information or support you’re looking for helps ensure you’re getting what you need while not wasting someone’s time or energy.
“Fine tune your words, but also be direct with the person and say, ‘This is what I'm looking for. Can you help?’ Entrepreneurs are happy to give up the 20 minutes of time. We just don't want to spend hours and hours of time answering questions because there are a lot of things you just have to figure out on your own. After all, failure is the best the way to learn.”
Don’t Forget Confidence
Networking your business is still, well, work. You have to put in the time and effort that’s required to meet the right people and partners. And that takes confidence. “Networking is just a universal thing of being a people person, but also having the confidence to go out there to obtain what you want,” Hiller says.
Prepare Yourself for the ‘No’
Startups are not easy, Hiller warns. “You may think it's going to be quick because you see the success of people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, but they went through a lot of nos. Disney went through hundreds of nos before things went well. So, it might take 10 years, maybe 20. But if you really are passionate about what you create, it'll work out.”
The Bear Down Network is a great place to start building the connections you need to grow your business. Get started today by finding a mentor.