Networking for Start-ups in the Age of Coronavirus
Networking during COVID is a critical skill for entrepreneurs and founders. For emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups, professional and active networking is an essential part of their business strategy. After all, a start-up’s chance for success is improved by the formal and informal business networks they build with other entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors.
Forbes recently published an article citing research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which clearly stated that “for 78% of start-ups, networking is vital for entrepreneurial success”. In a comprehensive study, the EIU found that successful entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, London, New York, and San Francisco emphasized digital and in-person networking. The importance of networking is not surprising because networking is a powerful tool in connecting you with prospective customers, possible investors, and potential mentors, all while helping you project your presence in your niche industry.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, usual business practices have come to a staggering halt. With strict social distancing measures put in place, there is hardly any way to Network during COVID. Getting entrepreneurs in a room for in-person social gatherings or business meet-ups is nearly impossible. There is no need to let this deter us, though. The pandemic has taught us resilience – businesses have re-strategize their practices with creative solutions to survive the pandemic’s adverse impacts. Digital networking, aka virtual networking, is just as useful for ensuring entrepreneurial success as in-person networking is. Some experts might argue that virtual networking is more beneficial because it is faster, cheaper, and less awkward.
Table of Contents
- Fostering Connections & Friendships
- Getting Much-needed Referrals
- Increase Your Goodwill
- Gaining Access to Potential Mentors
- Collaborate, Create, and Innovate!
- Put you on the Angel Investor’s Radar
Let’s get the basic out of the way first. Why do entrepreneurs need to strategize networking during COVID into their start-up plans properly? Why is it so vital to entrepreneurial success? Here is a quick run-down of five long-term benefits that networking offers to start-ups.
Meeting with people who think like you or challenge your ideas is quite necessary to develop a reflexive approach towards your business model. Interacting with your peers and other expert business people from the industry can go a long way in helping you benefit from their combined knowledge and experiences.
One of the most obvious benefits of networking is the expansion of your business and social networks. An expanding network can help you connect with potential clients and vendors, which will ultimately profit your start-up and allow it to grow bigger.
Let your reputation precede you – in the right way! A great benefit of business networking is that you can build its reputation progressively and increase its goodwill. As an entrepreneur, it is crucial to create a good impression on leading representatives from your industry because it can impact the number of profitable opportunities coming your way.
In the world of business, knowing the right people is critical. Business networking platforms often invite established and high-influential businessmen who are potential mentors for young entrepreneurs. Building rapport with people who have been in the field longer than you can extremely beneficial because of all the valuable advice that they can provide. Business incubators are often the easiest way to get a couple of mentors who can dish out great suggestions; however, networking events are another platform for connecting with potential mentors.
A confident and motivated entrepreneur leading a new start-up is always looking for opportunities for partnerships, collaborations, joint ventures, client leads, etc. Such opportunities are the perfect way to grow your business and transform it into something bigger and better. Business networking allows you to interact and engage with other passionate leaders who might have ideas that you can adopt or collaborate with others.
Finally, networking not only makes you better known in your industry, but it also puts you on the investment radar of many Angel investors. Besides, a strong network will allow you to tap into your network for warm introductions to potential investors.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ZOOM has risen through the ranks as a prominently used platform for online networking events. Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and LinkedIn are not far behind. As long as you have stable internet connections, you are good to go.
It is essential to understand that the first principle of networking during COVID is that you are working towards cultivating genuine relationships. When it comes to virtual conferences, I’d advise you to contact people through email or private messages afterward. Express your willingness to brainstorm with fellow entrepreneurs and established business people. Getting together with a small circle of entrepreneurs within your network to host a webinar or an online video conference is a great way to build a more robust professional circle. It creates the impression that you are dedicated and showcases your dedication as an entrepreneur.
An important concept here is to “Give more than you Get”. If you’re seen as always asking for something rather than offering help, your network will become wary of you and less likely to collaborate or assist you. If, on the other hand, you tend to be open and willing with your time and give back to the community you’re developing, then that is a positive thing. Its’ not calculating to be interested in helping others; it is just good business and will open you up too many more opportunities.
There are authentic challenges that virtual networking during COVID has presented. In a detailed article, Anne Kadet writes about how it is harder to get people to show up to an online meeting, which is somewhat counterintuitive. Using personal experience, Kadet discusses that platforms like Zoom work like a charm for many entrepreneurs gathered together for a small online meet-up; however, there is a chance that the conversation dies down and awkward silences descend. To combat this challenge, I would recommend that business networking meetings include a guest-speaker or moderator-led format. A good idea is to provide a meeting agenda with rough times and topics, so people know what to expect, and they know that it is not an open-ended, endless meeting.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has been detrimental to many start-ups. A study showed that around 7% of start-ups terminated employees because of the pandemic’s financial impact. The rising economic uncertainty has further caused the start-up eco-system to suffer significantly as fundraising opportunities have declined considerably. Yet this is the time to double down on your networking activities. There are still angel investors looking for opportunities to invest. Since the normal channels they use to find investments is limited, networking becomes even more critical.
Note that start-ups in the educational tech, health tech, communications, and essential care industries have significantly benefitted during the pandemic. If your start-up is a part of these industries, then it is a good time for you to work on raising investments from angel investors or even friends and family. Furthermore, I recommend that you prepare for the best-case and worst-case scenario regarding the future of your start-up. Develop a robust business continuity plan, if you have not before, and modify it according to the current global financial situation. Use your network to understand and pivot to changing consumer patterns. Your success at displaying adaptability skills will go a long way in building a resilient brand that can overcome the pandemic’s challenges.
Once you complete these recommendations, it is time to modify your pitch desks accordingly and start reaching out to potential angel investors through your network. If your start-up shows serious promise, i.e., it is a high-growth start-up, you are likely to land a couple of angel investors who believe in your idea and want to see it succeed.
Be it, potential investors, or prospective clients, it is always essential to emphasize your firm’s strengths and why doing business with you is beneficial. The importance of highlighting the value you create is more necessary than ever as angel investors are wary of readily investing, and consumers are consuming less. The emphasis eventually boils down to the narrative you choose to present to your customers and the pitch you use for your investors. The traction with consumers and the brand you develop will dictate how powerful your value proposition will be.
Having a strong value proposition and an even stronger brand will create name recognition and authority in your target market, and among the angel investors, you hope to attract. The overall brand includes the personal brand of the founders. Establishing not only the company but the founders themselves as authorities on the subject matter of the market in which the start-up focuses on his hugely beneficial. Networking during COVID is an excellent way of pushing your brand, both personal and company, so that you’re recognized as an authority on the subject and have influence.
There are three fundamentals worth considering ensuring that a robust and well-received brand translates into a good value proposition for both consumers and investors.
Your customers won’t buy your product or service because it sounds nice. Rational consumers aren’t that easy to coax. Your focus needs to be more towards saving them time, money, or effort, which makes their life better. This goal is especially true during the time of COVID 19, as your product or services can pivot to show how your company minimizes or mitigates the effects we are all seeing right now. Your product needs to trigger a transformative process within your buyers.
In other terms, instead of focusing on the unique features of your product, you can pivot and address the unique features of your product or service and how it helps them deal with the current situation. Make their needs to focus of attention. Networking is a great way to get the message out there, and it is far cheaper than traditional advertising. If possible, have your marketing strategies focused on hope and optimism, creating a positive impression on a buyer’s mind while we live through such bleak times.
Just as you need to prove your benefits to the customer, on the other end of the spectrum, getting the attention of the right investors is paramount to your success. Ask yourself, “What is in it for them?”
The current situation and market uncertainty make investors hyper-conscious of where they invest their money. Use your network to get the word out that your start-up is dealing with the crisis or has products or services available to help people during the crisis. This will get the attention of angel investors and others and encourage them to reach out to you to learn more.
Elaborate on how your business is employing innovative solutions to these problems in such unprecedented times. Such a move will show investors how quickly you have adapted to the rapidly changing times. Agility and pivoting to market trends is always positive for any firm.
Show investors the potential. If they reach out through your network, be ready to give them an elevator pitch. Make them realize that they are sitting on a “gold mine” reinforced by your active and robust network so that they know it would be foolish to skip out on this opportunity. Sell yourselves by making it about them.
The value proposition you present to both your customers and your investors is critical to your success. Why you? The answer to this question should be answered by your company and personal brand.
Today’s technology makes virtual networking more accessible than ever. While these tools have been around for a while, it took something like the Covid19 pandemic to make people comfortable with virtual interactions. I’ve even seen founder create slick pitch videos to send to angel investors that are a combination or a pitch deck and a demo. They use their network to broker warm introductions so they can send the link to the video pitch to various angel investors. This type of networking is much more efficient than in-person meetings or long presentations. It’s an effective way to reach a potentially large number of individuals and get their feedback. If they are interested, then you can follow up immediately. I’d like to think the silver lining to all of this lockdown and COVID 19 issues have been people’s acceptance of virtual interactions and making efficient use of their time.
In-person meetings are critical. However, utilizing powerful networking tools and techniques can make finding and connect with people much faster, which can reduce the investment cycle dramatically.
As a side note, integrating with social media is also are a great way to expand and develop your network. All mass communications in the past have always been one-sided. The newspaper, the radio, the TV, all these mediums have been practical tools, but have not stimulated the kind of buzz, the sort of conversation that social media can. Social media’s interactive nature makes it one of the most excellent networking tools a start-up can have at its disposal. Coupled with a strong and powerful brand, the organic growth your idea can receive is only limited by the number of active users on each platform.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put increased importance on strong networking during COVID skills. I know that I’ve seen an uptick entirely in networking outreach and the first thing I do is look at the strength of the personal network and their brand. How authoritative are they, what do they represent? Do they showcase expertise in their market? All of these things are important factors for me even to consider their investment opportunity.
Networking and brand building during COVID 19 has become essential to maintain momentum and build the opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves after the current situation.
About the Author
Jonathan Hung is one of the most active angel investors in Southern California, his mission is to drive value creation within each portfolio company. In support of this mission, he serves as Co-Managing Partner at – Unicorn Venture Partners.
Jonathan and his team target investments in US companies that have global market potential with a focus on long-term growth expansion to East Asian markets.
Jonathan developed his investing prowess as a Managing Member for his family office fund, J Heart Ventures, which made investments in start-up companies such as Gyft, ChowNow, Miso Robotics, Clover Health, Bitmain, to name a few startups he funded.
Jonathan has various degrees from the University of Southern California, London School of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.