The Art of Networking: You and Startup Investors

Imagine, it’s 5am and you’re getting ready for work. The month has not been exactly easy and you are down to your last $500. Two people have called you a considerable number of times and have left text messages. Both are asking for $400, both  messages contain heart-wrenching stories backing their requests, both need the money immediately and have promised to return it, possibly with profit, in a similar space of time. This is what we call a dilemma and you’re right in the middle of it.

But one of these people is a colleague at the workplace whose last name you vaguely remember and the other is your friend from high school whom you’ve gotten through many tough spots with. That makes it an easier choice, doesn’t it?
This situation replicates itself in so many forms in the world of business, especially in the fast growing startup space where similar ideas are pitched to the same investors in rapid succession at networking events. How do you ensure that your groundbreaking idea is picked out of the lot?
The answer can be found in the question: “who do you know?“ Or better still: “who knows you?”
SO, how do we ensure that when you meet that investor you will leave that lasting impression which will enable you to cash in on the relationship later? Here are three simple steps:
First impressions are essential.
You have only one opportunity to make a good first impression. Studies show that it takes the human brain 30 seconds to form an opinion about someone or something and whether right or wrong, this opinion often determines how we relate with each other for the rest of the relationship. Scary huh? I’ve found that the best way to nail the first impression is to prepare for it.  
A friend of mine was at an international event and decided to wear an African print shirt, one of the top persons at that event walked up to him in the middle of it and complimented him on his appearance, a conversation immediately began about his home country and the hassle of travelling.  The lesson here is, the first few seconds often tick by without a single word uttered and in that period the only information anyone has to go by is how you look and present yourself. Never throw on ‘just anything’ to an event where you know you will meet people you want to impress. Also, top off that dashing look with a smile, not only does it welcome the person you’re about to meet, a genuine smile also makes you feel good about yourself and lightens the mood. Remember that first impression last forever.
Make friends, don’t court investors.
Influential people such as investors are often able to perceive when someone has a well rehearsed pitch for his company or idea. They go through them every day. The people they hardly meet are those who take genuine interest in them as individuals. It’s quite simple, you can either go and tell them about yourself, like everyone else, or you can begin the conversation by asking how their journey was, or how they are easing into the new environment. Most people will immediately warm up to someone who seems  concerned about their welfare or take interest in their interests. You don’t even need to tell this person about your business the first time you meet him.  Your aim is to make this person your friend, not a business acquaintance, that is what will make him take a risk on you. Save the pitch for step three.
Follow up!
In the biblical story of how Jesus healed ten lepers, it is said that only one of them returned to say thanks. A friend of mine once told me, if he were the Messiah, he would have tried to reverse the healing for the other nine immediately. A follow up is possibly the most important part of the networking process. All the work you have done till now is pointless if you never call or email this person after you speak. Nevertheless,  in calling back or sending an email, you have to be careful not to go overboard. To follow up effectively, Business Networking Strategist, Andy Lopata, proposes the 24 - 7 -30 rule. That states you must have a meaningful two way correspondence with the person in the first 24 hours, after 7 days and after 30 days. And that excludes a Facebook friend request.

In conclusion, the key to great networking is empathy; always have the other person in mind. When having a conversation, when saying hi, don’t be worried that the person might not like you, rather be concerned that the person is comfortable and is enjoying himself. That often opens more doors than anything else.

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