Being a young entrepreneur these days means you have access to an unlimited number of resources that weren’t available to your predecessors. You’re connected to a world of potential teammates, peers, rivals, mentors, and investors. Networking should be easy for you. But what if it’s not?
As a teen, you may be new to the art of networking. You’ve probably never had to ask an investor for money to start your business, approached a potential mentor, or recruited a team.
Thankfully, networking is something you can learn and practice. Honing your networking skills now will pave the way for you to own a room and make tons of connections in college and beyond!
ASK FOR ADVICE
That’s right: some of the best advice we can give you is to ask for advice. People love to tell other people what to do. And adults really love to tell young people what they should do. (You’ve probably figured that out by now.) Asking for advice from adults in your field shows that you are intelligent, curious, and serious. And now that person in your field knows who you are!
SET A GOAL
Casting your net out as widely as possible is a great way to waste your time. Think about it: if you plan to become a marine biologist, do you need to chat up someone who works in fashion? Instead, set a goal for yourself and aim your networking efforts toward that goal. Some goals to consider:
- Finding a mentor who has a career like the one you want
- Getting advice from a current freshman at your first-choice college
- Socializing with other young entrepreneurs in your field
- Meeting potential investors to pitch
We know you’re already super busy, but attending professional events in your field is one of the best ways to start networking. Check your town’s chamber of commerce for networking opportunities like lectures and presentations. Your local college may host parties or open houses for people in your field. Organizations for a certain professional field will have local chapters that might let you attend a meeting.
Don’t waste other people’s time by giving them your life story and taking the long way around to get to the point. Without being rude or off-putting, be prepared to let someone know what you want from them early on in your conversation. Not sure how to do that? Start with, “Hi, I’m ___ and I’m a student at ___.” From there try:
- “I heard you built your company from the ground up. Do you have any advice for a young entrepreneur like me who is just getting started?”
- “I read all about your investment in XYZ business and wondered if you’d like to hear my pitch for my ___ business?”
- “I’ve always admired your work. Do you mind if I pick your brain for some advice?”
- “I’m looking to get started in ___ field. May I contact you with questions?”
Still worried about approaching a stranger and starting a conversation? Try a simple icebreaker. Everyone loves to be complimented. Tell someone you love their shoes or outfit. If you just heard someone speak to a crowd, tell them how much they inspired you. Even a simple, “Hey, you’re so-and-so, right? I thought I recognized you from YouTube!” can help you get started.
LinkedIn is to business and networking what Snapchat is to you and your friends. It’s a way to build your presence in your chosen field and get to know others. Your profile on LinkedIn will show off your accomplishments (so far!), intended area of study, and anything else you want potential employers, investors, or mentors to know about you.
BE READY TO SHARE YOUR INFORMATION
Having business cards to hand out is ideal, but not mandatory. You can always take someone else’s business card and promise to send them your info later. (Try to follow up with that within 24 hours, even on weekends.) Have your pitch ready to go without stumbling over it or reading notes.
Plastering a giant fake smile on your face will put people off. Instead, pump yourself up before you network by doing some light cardio, like a few jumping jacks, just to get your heart beating and your brain working. Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. It’s cheesy but effective. Remind yourself of all your best qualities. Make a mental image of what successfully networking will look like for you.
As you meet people and make connections, use positive, optimistic words and phrases:
- “I’ve already met my goal of ___, and now I’m looking to ___.”
- “I love this industry because ___.”
- “My dream is to ___ and I know I can get there by ___.”
- “I’m confident the market is ready for my product, and here’s why.”
- “So far things are on track for success. I’m so excited for the next step!”
TAKE REJECTION IN STRIDE
You control your pitch, your attitude, and your goals. Unfortunately, you can’t control how others react to your networking efforts. Who knows why someone rejects your request for advice, mentorship, or investment? They might be in the middle of a rough week at work or had a tough morning at home. Maybe they’ve already had a negative experience mentoring or investing in the past. None of this is your fault. As we mentioned above, keep a positive attitude – especially, when you get rejected or turned away. No one likes a sore loser.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Not everyone is a natural at schmoozing and talking to strangers. And it’s not only introverts who can get overwhelmed when it comes to networking. After a while, you may start to lose steam from repeating yourself over and over. It’s ok to take a break. Sometimes you just need five minutes to leave the room and be quiet. Other times you’ll need to excuse yourself from the event and go home to recover. Try to keep track of what’s going on with yourself mentally and physically. You can’t make solid connections if your body is on the verge of collapse, or your brain keeps scrambling your words.
Networking as a teen doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. In fact, this may wind up being the most fun you have as a young entrepreneur!
Find out more about the Kantner Foundation’s commitment to young entrepreneurs, including our college scholarships for high school students, by clicking here.