5 Benefits of Networking

© by boellstiftung

Part of developing my new startup has required me to do a lot more networking than I’ve ever had to do in the past. This has meant attending networking events both in my local city and in nearby cities. I’ve noticed that in the process of attending such events, my approach towards them has also changed.

In the past, I would only attend events where I had a clear purpose and reason to attend. If I didn’t know the people well, or it seemed outside my area of interest or expertise, I would skip it. Why waste my time otherwise, right?

However over the past few weeks, after attending several networking events, I’ve noticed that my expectations going in and what I came out with were often very different. This has opened my mind to such situations and I’m now more liberal in the choices of events that I’ll attend. In fact, I’m now even begun attending (and speaking at) functions outside my regular base, as doing so provides the following benefits:

Practice your Pitch

Each time I attend an event where I’m introduced to new people, this gives me the opportunity to pitch my product again. I’ve talked about the benefits of this before but it’s worth repeating. The more you practice pitching your product, the better you will get at it. In the process, people will ask you questions about your products that you will need to know the answer to.

When I began, I found my initial pitch to be several minutes long, glossing over details that I later found to be unimportant. The questions that people asked, helped me refine the pitch to focus on the important details of the business. Being able to make a short, to the point pitch gives you two benefits:

  1. If the person you are talking to isn’t really interested in your product, it saves you and them time.
  2. If the person you are talking to is interested in your product, then you will be providing him with just enough information to know that he is interested, so that he will want to continue talking to you. The last thing you want to do is bore a potentially interested party with uninteresting details. They get pitches like this all the time, so it’s important to pique their curiosity early!

Market Research

If it turns out that the people you are talking to can’t help you directly as a potential investor, adviser or team member, they may still be able to provide you with valuable market research. Perhaps they fit the profile of the type of person who would use your product or service. Take this opportunity to find out what they think of your product from that point of view. Do they use competing products? What do they like or dislike about those products? Does your product or service solve any problems they are currently having.

These past few weeks, I’ve walked into several events, looking to make contacts with potential investors, advisers or team members. While I wasn’t able to find those, I was able to come away with valuable market research advice, that made attending the event very worthwhile.

© by Robert Scoble

Make Connections

One of your first investments as a company, should be in a set of business cards. Also get yourself a business card holder to put all these cards in. Replace the cards you give out, with cards you receive in return.

Create a system of making connections. If you’re receiving cards, separate relevant ones that you want to follow up with separately. Write notes on the cards if there are important details you want to remember.

If you have specific needs, ASK. Tell the people “Hey I’m looking for someone who can help me with…” Just because they may not be able to help you directly, doesn’t mean they don’t know someone who can!

This also extends to people you haven’t met in person. If there’s someone in the community you would like to meet, touch base with them on Twitter first. I did so with the CEO of a huge company in the similar market. That tweet led to a direct phone call, and now a regular email relationship. Who would have thought?!

Get Advice

There is a misconception that people have about asking for advice. It doesn’t cost anything, so ask for it! In the beginning, I shied away from the bigwigs at such events – big investors or other famous people in attendance. Why would they want to talk to little ole me?

What surprised me was that not only were they willing to talk to me, they were also willing to provide free advice! Take advantage of it. Establish connections with them on Twitter and other social networks and get the ball rolling. If they don’t want to talk to you, let them make that decision, but more often than not they will!

Make Friends

Have balance in your life. Not all meetings have to be about business and how to increase profits. It is also perfectly okay to just have a good time. Share funny stories. Become friends and nothing else. Enjoy the journey and take a break whenever you need it. You’ll get more out of life that way.

Will Anyone Buy my Product?

© by little bird feet

So you have a great idea for the next great product.  Excellent. You’re already ahead of people out there without ideas. Before you start building your product though, it’s helpful to find out if anyone will buy your product first. To do so, see if you can find the answers to the following questions.

1. What does your product do?

The good news is that you have a few choices here. But make sure you know the answer.

  • Does it solve a real problem that people are having?
  • Does it entertain people?
  • Does it make people feel better?
  • Does it make people laugh?

2. Is your product better than competing ones out there?

What would make someone choose your product over competing ones? Possibilities here include:

  • Is it cheaper?
  • Is it faster?
  • Does it have more features?
  • Is it simpler or easier to use?
  • Is it more convenient?
  • Is it more fun to use?

3. Is this a product that people will pay for?

Here’s where it gets tricky. There is a lot of content out there, and a lot of it is available for free. This might be ok for you, if you’re adopting a freemium strategy. It might not be so good if there is nothing in there that anyone would pay for.

If you don’t have the answer to this question, it might be worth doing some market research first. Even if you think you know the answer to this question, it might still be worth it to do some market research to confirm the validity of your product. You can start by answering the following questions.

  • Who is my target audience? Where can I find them? If you have a very specific target consumer, then try looking for forums where this type of consumer is likely to be. Make contact with them to see what issues they are having, whether your product addresses these issues, and whether they would be willing to pay for it.
  • What complaints do users of competing products have? Again, look for forums on competing sites, or comments on company blogs. Talk to users of competing products and see what complaints they have. Does your product address any of these issues?

If you can’t find the answers you want, then take out a Google or Facebook ad or two that advertises your product. Have it lead to a website that allows the user to leave their email address. If people click on your ad and leave their email address, then get in touch with them to see if they would be interested in your product. If nobody clicks on your ad, then you know you may be barking up the wrong tree.

You can also learn a lot from talking to real people – friends, family, neighbors etc. See if you can sell the concept of your product to them, and whether it is something they would purchase. You may be surprised by the answers you get.

By asking the above questions, and going through this process, you will know whether your product or idea has merit or not. If it turns out it doesn’t, you just saved yourself a lot of time and money.  If it ends up reconfirming what you already know, then use that to motivate you and give you confidence in pursuing the next step.