A Melbourne startup founder wants networking to be less like speed dating and more rewarding for entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur Social Club (ESC) founder Jessica Williams is planning to host over 100 startup events in Melbourne this year.
After attending several networking events in Melbourne and interstate, Williams tells Startupsmart she found there were limited opportunities to genuinely connect with people.
“Things like speed networking with shoving business cards in each other’s faces can be really superficial and you walk away not getting much out of it,” she says.
To address this, Williams designed her own series of events for networkers to create meaningful connections.
“We’re dedicated to helping entrepreneurs become more successful and our primary focus is developing a hub that connects everyone in our [startup] community to share resources and help them grow,” she says.
ESC’s events range from up-skilled workshops and investor-entrepreneur matching nights to retreats and singles nights.
Most of these are free and funded through partnerships, she says.
In her own journey, networking has been a powerful tool in getting ESC off the ground.
“ESC has basically been built off sharing of resources,” she says.
Its community has grown to more than 1500 members.
Williams says genuine networking is an excellent way for startups to connect with investors, partners, co-founders, partners and consumers.
And these are her top six rules to getting it right.
1. Be interested, not interesting
Williams says being genuinely interested in the people you network with is critical in forming long-term relationships.
“Spend more time listening,” she says.
We all know people like to talk about themselves and remember that.”
This advice is echoed by investment VC veteran Ashton Kutcher who stresses the importance of understanding connections’ needs and motivations.
Williams says sharing knowledge, tips and contacts in the community you engage with is an excellent way to gain traction and build a healthy startup ecosystem.
“Seize every chance to be helpful,” she says.
“Becoming known as a powerful resource will put you front and centre.”
3. Volunteer at a networking night
Williams says volunteering is the best way to overcome networking nerves.
She recommends messaging organisers on Meetup.com, where a wide range of events for startups and entrepreneurs are regularly posted, and offering to assist at their event.
Williams says volunteering eliminates the need for you to approach unknown faces cold.
“It’s a really smart strategy to have people come to you naturally,” she says.
4. Consider the person’s networks and possibilities
When networking, Williams advises that you don’t write people off if they don’t present immediate value.
“The person you’re speaking to may not be able to help you now but someone in their network might,” she says.
Williams says exchanging contacts and resources facilitates this process and creates more opportunity for everyone.
“And always remember, someone may not be able to help you now but this can always change in the future.”
5. Ditch the pitch
Williams has seen the elevator pitch in action many times at networking events with the robotic delivery often drawing an automatic lack of interest.
“No one wants to be sold to,” she says.
“People are more inclined to do business with you if they genuinely like and enjoy your company.”
6. Host your own networking night
Williams says organising and hosting your networking nights lets you choose the type of people you get to meet whether they be investors, entrepreneurs or skilled people to link with for long-term growth.
With platforms like Meetup.com, creating and hosting professional events have become much easier to coordinate Williams says.
“It’s one of the most powerful strategies at your disposal,” she says.