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Business Networking Tips for Start-Ups
By Gelie Akhenblit

Launching a business is definitely one of the most challenging things I've ever done. Not only is it a complete emotional rollercoaster, but in many ways it's very lonely, especially if this is your fist time venturing out on this journey. That's why it is absolutely crucial to build a solid network that can act as your support system, provide you with resources and act as your team.

Many people mistake networking for promoting and think that going to a networking event involves running around the room and handing out your business card to as many people as possible. WRONG. If you do that, you will get nowhere quickly and just frustrate yourself and everyone else in the process.

As a start-up, your goal is to meet and surround yourself with key individuals that will help you grow. Chances are that you are low on funds (as most start-ups are), so you will have to find people to barter services with, people that can act as your informal board, other entrepreneurs that can provide moral support (your family/friends might not be your biggest fans) and people you might be able to partner with on various projects.

Below are some steps I took when launching two years ago. Fast forward to today, and we have a local network of over 12,000 members and our networking events bring out over 1,000 professionals on a quarterly basis. Not too bad.

1. Find networking events in your area. Many times your local Business Journal will have a listing of networking events or your city might have a networking events calendar that lists professional mixers. If none of those options work, typically your local Chamber will have a monthly mixer and you can start there. Once you make it to your first networking event, ask around to find out where other people network in your community.
2. At the networking events, your main objective is to ask a lot of questions and listen to people. Find out who the local key players are and make a list of them. Your goal should be to meet and connect with as many of these people as possible. They are the ones that can open doors for you, create opportunities, introduce you to other influencers and overall be a great resource. Remember, as the owner of a start-up, your goal should be to grow your network and create opportunities.
3. When I first started networking, I would read the Business Journal religiously and make notes of people I would like to meet. Many times I would actually see some of these people at networking events and I would tell them I read about them in the Journal. That's a very flattering thing for someone to hear and it immediately gave me an "in" to allow for further conversation with him/her.
4. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Meaning…you might go to a lot of non-productive networking events and meet a lot of people that you just don't click with until you hit your stride. That's OK. You are only going to do business with people that you know, like and trust. Find the ones that you have something in common with and work off of that connection. You will pretty much know right away if you can work with someone or not. After your initial meeting, set up a follow up time to meet for coffee and talk further to see how you could work together to create a win-win. In the early stages, you will be doing a lot of bartering…so always be on the look out for people that provide services such as marketing, social media, etc.
5. At this point in the game you are telling the world that you are here and everyone is getting to know you. You are building your brand. How will others perceive you? Your personal brand is crucial. This includes what you talk about, how you dress, what your business cards look like, what your follow up is like, etc. Be very aware and cautions of the image you portray as this could make or break you in the very beginning. You don't want any doors closing before they even open. If you feel you might need some help in any of these areas (marketing, branding, wardrobe consultant, etc), find a service provider and exchange services or hire them to make sure you are polished and ready to go!

For me, this was one of the most exciting times on my journey. I love getting to know people and building out my network. Hopefully you will find these tips useful and wishing you the best of luck on your start-up!

- Gelie Akhenblit
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