Successful businesses don’t exist in a vacuum. Everyone needs help, from the planning stages to growth and expansion. For young entrepreneurs, especially, your connections might be the key difference between getting your business off the ground or not.
Gaining connections means using effective networking practices. For those of you who have yet to work a room, here are a few pieces of advice to get started.
YOU GOTTA BE IN IT TO WIN IT
If no one knows you’re running a business, how can they ever hire you or buy your product?
The first step in successful networking is to cast your net as far and wide as possible. To do that, you can’t let your shyness, self-consciousness, or introversion get in your way. Conquer your imposter syndrome and put yourself out there. No young entrepreneur ever found success by hiding in the shadows!
Getting the word out means letting everyone know that you are open for business and ready to work. Make your message one of positivity and strength:
“My shop is open and ready to help!”
“I’m ready to take on new clients!”
“[Your Brand Name Here] can help you get what you need right now!”
Then start spreading the word. Tell friends and family and ask them to pass it along. Before you know it, someone’s sister’s best friend will contact you!
OPEN WITH A COMPLIMENT
Starting a conversation with a stranger can be tough. You already know this if you’ve ever been the new kid at school or have attended a camp without any of your friends.
The key to starting a conversation with a stranger – whether for business or life in general – is to have a great opening line. A successful opening line makes room for the other person to answer beyond a simple “yes” or “no,” and works around their natural guard.
What works best? A compliment. Who doesn’t love a compliment!
“I love your shoes, where’d you get them?”
“Your presentation really got my attention.”
You can also try finding common ground.
“I have that exact same backpack!”
“This food truck is my favorite, too. What do you usually get?”
A great opener lets someone know you are friendly, attentive, and open to a chat. Remember to use this opening as the starting point to ask questions about this person’s needs and problems, which will naturally lead to you talking about your business.
People are naturally turned off by negativity. No one wants to hear about your problems or how hard it is to run your business.
Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean you have to be all rainbows and sunshine all the time. Instead, it means you know how to put a positive spin on even the worst of your problems. For example:
“I have so much going on with school that I can barely keep my business going, so I really need you to buy some products.”
Can turn into this:
“I’m so excited to see my business taking off!”
“I don’t really like mowing lawns, but I need the cash for college.”
Can turn into this:
“I love that I get all this experience running a business before I’m even out of high school!”
See the difference? The first phrases are giant complaints that will definitely make people walk away from you. The second phrases show that you are a high-achieving, hard-working young entrepreneur with an opportunity for your audience to be part of the action!
RELATIONSHIPS WORKS BOTH WAYS
You know how relationships work. There’s give and there’s take. Friends who do nothing but give get burnt out. Friends who do nothing but take are seen as selfish. As a young entrepreneur, you need to do both for your clients and connections.
Ways to give back to clients who purchased your product or hired your services:
- Offer a 10% off code
- Surprise them with a bonus treat or service
- Respond to their reviews
- Give them “early bird” VIP status on your new products
Ways to give back to those who are helping you make connections on your entrepreneurial journey:
- Offer to connect them to people you know
- Do some business for them at a deep discount, or for free
- Write positive reviews for them
- Advertise their services on your social media
When you network, you’re not only looking for connections who can help you, but for an ongoing, long-term relationship that will be mutually beneficial.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
Everyone gets rejected. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. You will meet people who just can’t help you. Or don’t need your product right now. Or have some other personal reason for not responding to your outreach.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your company is to avoid taking it personally. You never know what someone has going on behind the scenes. Thank them for their time and move on. Posting negative reviews, complaining to other potential connections, or responding with snark will only hurt YOU, not them.
One of the worst things you can do as a networking young entrepreneur is to hand out business cards to everyone and then walk away. How does that help people remember you?
Be memorable in a positive way. (Notice a trend here?) Master a funny (but clean) joke. Have a distinct business card. Delve deep into a conversation. Offer ways you can help them connect. And most importantly: follow-up.
You don’t need to become instant BFFs with every single person you meet. You just need them to remember you. And they are more likely to remember you in a positive way (!) if you made them laugh, caught their attention, pleasantly surprised them, or can help them.
Did you notice a pattern here? Stay positive! No one wants to work with, or even engage in conversation with, a grump. Even if you have to “fake it” at first, giving off an energetic and can-do vibe will draw people to you. They’ll naturally feel like they want to be part of whatever it is you’re doing. And that’s good for business!
If you are a high school student in Florida with a passion for entrepreneurship, click here to find out more about the Kantner Foundation’s college scholarship program.