Much of entrepreneurship is self-driven. The attraction of being your own boss, making your own decisions, and acting on your own ideas are each motivating factors behind starting and running a business.
Whether we like to admit it or not, however, there is a ceiling to what we can accomplish and how far we can go alone. That’s why networking can take you and your business to the next level. Connecting and collaborating with others in your industry or peer group can help you climb to new heights.
No matter what field you work in—whether you’re an entrepreneur, or even a student, freelancer, or full-time employee—knowing how to network effectively can improve your business, as well as your professional and personal relationships.
What is networking?
Networking is the act of establishing meaningful relationships with people to help you further your own career or pursue a venture by collaborating with others.
Contrary to common assumptions, networking isn’t only for extroverts. Nor does it have to be completely selfish or “fake.” Networking is for all—and is now much easier in an increasingly connected world.
Why is networking important?
Networking has always been important in business, but it’s even more critical now. According to research, the average person’s professional and personal network has shrunk by 16% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Networking can create strong relationships while also helping to combat loneliness, also on the rise due to social isolation measures during the pandemic.
Networking enables you to:
- Find job opportunities or potential hires
- Make contacts for co-marketing opportunities
- Pursue learning opportunities through mentorship and mastermind groups
- Get into the habit of building professional relationships over the course of your career.
- Create new friendships with like-minded people.
How to network: 14 effective networking tips
Now you know the basics and importance of networking, here are some networking tips to guide your approach.
1. Make a plan before networking
Do some research on who you want to connect with—even if you don’t have specific names of people, you can build a profile for the types of connections you want to make. For example, maybe you want to network with boutique store owners who could potentially be wholesale buyers of your jewelry line.
Always consider your audience before attending an event or pursuing valuable connections. Be strategic about the nature of your networking. If you’d like to meet Instagram influencers, for example, you might want to attend an InstaMeet near you.
Workshops and talks are also great for networking, because they usually have a meet-and-greet component. Not only do you learn something, but you’ll have a better idea of the people who will be there, since the audience for these events is usually more targeted.
2. Find ways to be useful to others
Self-interest is the basis of many decisions and relationships. So why do new business interactions and cold outreach attempts throw this simple truth to the wind?
Reciprocity is one of the principles of persuasion highlighted in psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, which states that people have a tendency to want to repay or give back to those who give to them.
Taking someone out for a cup of coffee, for example, is a simple offer that can help you earn a face-to-face interaction. Offering a blogger a free sample when you reach out to them is more likely to lead to a review.
If you really want to create a connection with someone, especially if they can do more for you than you can for them, be accommodating and aware of the value of their time.
3. Be yourself
It’s important to be authentic in not just your personal life but also in business. People are emotional decision-makers, and even business networking is founded upon personal relationships. Be true to yourself and allow others to connect with that.
4. Remember people’s names (and use them)
Do your best to remember people’s names when you meet them. Write names down on a piece of paper or in your phone, repeat it back to them, say it over in your head—whatever it takes to retain that information.
Consider storing their data in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Streak CRM to keep organized—you can often annotate with notes about how you met or know this person, as well as any other necessary information.
5. Take time to make meaningful connections
Connections don’t happen overnight, and you won’t see results immediately. It’s important to remember that it takes time for your efforts to pay off. Be patient and stick with it.
6. Start from your inner circle—and work outward
One of the more approachable ways to start networking is to connect with the people you already know. Maybe it’s a former manager or colleague you lost touch with, or a friend of a friend who works in the same industry. You’d be surprised at how many connections you already have within reach.
7. Take advantage of social media
They wouldn’t be known as social networks if they weren’t good for networking. And unlike email, it’s much easier to get in touch with people.
Your social networking strategy can essentially be broken down into two approaches:
- Inbound: When people find you because they are intentionally searching for you or someone like you, or stumble upon you because of your public activity online.
- Outbound: When you reach out to other people online with a public post or direct messaging.
The best networking approach fuses both. Later, this article will explore two of the best social platforms for networking: LinkedIn and Twitter.
8. Network with a range of people
A diverse professional network leads to new opportunities, so pursue chances to network with all kinds of people. You might network with potential customers, employees, collaborators, or even business partners. All you need is one commonality to open the door.
9. Prepare your elevator pitch
Think about what makes you interesting and different and craft it into an elevator pitch to keep in your back pocket for when you need to introduce yourself.
Everyone has a story that makes them unique. If you’re stuck on where to start, here’s a template you can adapt based on your own story, who you’re talking to, and whether it’s in-person or online.
Elevator pitch template:
My name is [YOUR NAME], [TITLE] at [YOUR COMPANY]. We offer [PRODUCT/SERVICE] for [TARGET MARKET] to [VALUE PROPOSITION].
Unlike [THE COMPETITION], we [KEY DIFFERENTIATOR]. And we recently [RECENT MILESTONE].
My name is Braveen Kumar, I'm a Shopify content creator. We offer a platform that empowers both early entrepreneurs and large enterprises to build, run, and grow their own stores.
Unlike most marketplaces where you can sell your products, Shopify lets you build and brand your custom online store with the tools to sell across a variety of channels, manage inventory, start small, and scale fast.
Today, more than 500,000 entrepreneurs use Shopify to power their businesses.
10. Attend online and offline events
Networking events can happen virtually and in person. In-person events local to you offer a great chance to meet people in your community. But if you want to reach a broader network, you can also look to online events—you can connect with like-minded people from all over the world.
11. Collect contact information
Don’t forget to get contact information when you make connections. Ask about email, phone number, and social media channels. You might also want to learn what their website URL is so you can do some follow-up research later on. Without contact information, you’re going to have a difficult time maintaining these relationships.
12. Ask your peers for relevant introductions
Referrals carry more weight than cold introductions—it’s a form of social proof. Rather than cold-pitching yourself to a potential new connection, ask for an introduction from someone you know in common.
13. Join or start something new
Whether it’s starting a blog, a YouTube channel, or a side business, doing things outside of your main job makes networking a lot easier. Not only does it give you more to talk about, but it also helps you make connections in the process as you try to grow something on your own.
Publishing, in particular, is an effective way of making new connections—especially if you do it on platforms like LinkedIn or Medium that give you access to their built-in audiences. It also helps you grow your personal brand.
14. Remember to follow up
Following up is important for nurturing and maintaining relationships, as well as for staying top of mind. It also gives you a great chance to share what’s new with you. You can set up calendar reminders or use your CRM tool to automate follow-ups.
Remember the following tips:
- Personalize your emails based on fields like first name and company name.
- Save templates to customize in the future.
- Keep track of who you’ve emailed and make notes about your contacts.
- See if they even opened your emails—incredibly valuable insight that can help inform any follow-up you do.
If you haven’t already, you should also optimize your email signature with links to your website, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other relevant social profiles.
How to network with people online
There are many options for online networking, including social media, online groups, email, and virtual events.
Networking on Twitter
As a public forum social media platform, Twitter is one of the best places for building networks. Here are some tips for networking on Twitter:
- Optimize your Twitter bio to convey what you do and are about, both personally and professionally. Use keywords people search for (like your job title or industry) to make yourself easier to find.
- If you’re looking to connect with people in a specific city, search for people based on location, job title, company, or any other information on their profile with Twitter’s Advanced Search.
- Add the people you’re interested in to your private lists so you can keep tabs on what they’re up to. Make an effort to engage with their content via likes, retweets, and replies.
One of the hurdles on Twitter is that unless an account changes its default privacy settings, you can only send private direct messages to people who are following you.
If the person you want to reach out to isn’t following you, here’s what you can do:
- Follow the account so they can send you a direct message.
- Mention them in a tweet (using @username) to start a public conversation.
- Reply to one of their tweets to engage with them directly.
- Invite them to send you a direct message to start a conversation.
Networking on LinkedIn
Many people set their LinkedIn up as an online résumé and leave it at that. In reality, LinkedIn is home to 900 million professionals organized by industry, skills, and mutual connections.
Not only that, when someone searches for you on Google, LinkedIn is often one of the top results, increasing your visibility both on and off the platform.
The key elements of a strong, searchable LinkedIn profile include:
- Professional, descriptive headline
- A custom URL
- Search-friendly job titles and descriptions
- Endorsements from colleagues, clients, partners, etc. in your network
Make sure your profile is complete and public. Frequent posting and publishing will also likely garner you favor in LinkedIn search results and visibility.
Like Twitter, LinkedIn lets you reach out to people within your network via direct messaging. However, they have to be an existing connection. You have to pay for a premium plan to message people outside of your network using LinkedIn’s InMail feature.
When you send an invite to connect, you can increase your chances of acceptance by customizing the message with a quick introduction and why you think the connection is worth making.
You might be wondering why Facebook isn’t in this section. While Twitter and LinkedIn are often used as professional channels, Facebook connections are generally reserved for friends, family, and casual acquaintances, and your cold messages might not be very well received by most people.
Networking at webinars and online events
Virtual events offer a low-pressure environment to make new connections. You can find these on platforms like Eventbrite and Meetup, or through Facebook Events—you’ll often see a mix of in-person and virtual events.
With Shopify Community, you can find both virtual and in-person events to attend and connect with 900,000 Shopify Merchants and Partners. Events include, among others, conferences and training. You can also use Shopify Community to ask or answer questions, as well as join and engage in groups.
How to network with people offline
Even in an increasingly online world, the best, deepest connections you’ll make are face-to-face. Offline networking events are still hugely popular—plus, they’re a lot better organized now, thanks to technology.
Networking at conferences
Professional conferences are an opportune time to network. That’s often one of the main goals for 76% of attendees, anyway—to network with people. Arm yourself with business cards prior to the event, and be sure to collect them as well. Take advantage of dedicated networking events within the conference, especially if it spans multiple days.
Networking at social events
If you’re interested in local events that draw other like-minded people, in-person events are great forums for networking. Like virtual events, you can find offline events on Meetup, Eventbrite, and Facebook Events.
Open doors with effective networking
While you can certainly accomplish a ton on your own, imagine how much more you can achieve with a strong network of folks who support you. Having a strong network makes you an even stronger individual entrepreneur.
Learning how to network effectively isn’t just a skill for the world of business. Putting yourself out there and making connections can help you build your career, find mentors and friends, develop your own venture, and open new doors.
How to network FAQ
How do you network as a beginner?
- Make a plan.
- Prepare your elevator pitch.
- Start from your inner circle. Ask your peers for relevant connections.
- Take advantage of social media.
- Make connections, remember names, and follow up.
What is the best way to network?
- Webinars and online events
- Social events
How do you become good at networking?
- Prepare yourself with a plan and elevator pitch.
- Attend an event on your own.
- Practice online and in person.
- Use a CRM tool to help you stay organized.
- Follow up with people.
- Be personable and authentic.
How do you network if you’re shy?
- Remember that everyone is there to meet new people.
- All you need to do is introduce yourself.
- When someone gives you their name, repeat it back to them to help you remember it.
- Ask questions and actively listen to the other person. Know when to move on and make your way around the room.