jonathan hung

10 Online Networking Tips For Startups And Entrepreneurs

A person holding a phone opening LinkedIn to network virtually

COVID-19 has changed much of the landscape for startups and entrepreneurs. All companies, from the largest corporations down to the one-person shops, are having to adjust to working from home. Some entrepreneurs are finding this adjustment to be straightforward and intuitive, while others are finding it to be a little bit more of a challenge.

For startups, in particular, the challenge of working from home isn’t so much the ability to complete the tasks – each team member can still perform their duties from home. Coders can always write software from home. Accountants can look at the books. Most roles, individually, can cope with working from home.

Instead, challenges arise when it comes to communication and networking. The ability to meet other entrepreneurs, vendors, clients, and prospective investors is vital for the success of businesses at the earliest stages of life. Those face-to-face interactions, where you pitch your business confidently, are the ones that will determine if you advance to the next funding rounds.

Given the COVID-19 situation and the fact that most residents of the United States are presently under some form of shelter-in-place order, it’s clear that entrepreneurs and founders will need to transition from in-person networking to online networking.

Here are ten tips to make that transition as smooth as possible, allowing you to network and advance your business during these uncertain times.

  1. Remember, Everyone Is In The Same Position
  2. Establish Your Professional Profile
  3. Find Contacts On LinkedIn Or Meetup
  4. Connect With People Professionally And Politely
  5. Develop Your Online Resources And Pitch
  6. Attend Virtual Conferences
  7. Be Concise And Direct
  8. Have A Video Chat Solution That Anyone Can Use
  9. Fit Time In Every Day To Network
  10. Proofread Everything
  11. Online Networking May Feel Different, But The Core Principles Are The Same

1. Remember, Everyone Is In The Same Position

It can be easy to feel like you’re falling behind other businesses by not having as many opportunities to network. You may have the mental image of other entrepreneurs meeting VCs, other startups, and so on, like the pre-coronavirus days.

However, those meetings aren’t happening. The fact that you now have to engage in online networking doesn’t mean that you’re “falling behind” others. Everyone, including investors, meetups, and those providing professional services, has to adapt to this new normal. Therefore, if things move a little more slowly or you make some mistakes along the way, that’s ok. Other entrepreneurs are making those mistakes as well.

2. Establish Your Professional Profile

Now is as good a time as any to ensure that your professional profile is up-to-date and correct. When you reach out to people online, you’re invariably going to be giving them some information about you for them to look up. Perhaps it’s your LinkedIn account, or maybe it’s the about section on your startup’s website.

No matter where your professional profile lives, ensure that it is up-to-date and presents a positive first impression. Your digital presence will likely play a more significant role, now, in every interaction you have since you can no longer rely on a positive in-person impression.

As part of this professional profile, ensure that your personal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts do not contain any content that you would not want an investor, vendor, or client to see. Search your name online to see what comes up. If there’s anything you wouldn’t want people to see, correct that first.

3. Find Contacts On LinkedIn Or Meetup

Once you’ve ensured that you have a favorable professional profile, you can connect with others on LinkedIn or Meetup. Many of these networking sites let you connect with members and, since they are likely in lockdown like you are, you might find that you’re able to connect virtually with the right investor, partner, or professional.

Meetup has many virtual groups dedicated to working from home. Instead of meeting up in person, you can still join these groups and have a Zoom call or exchange some other form of contact info. Even though people may be isolating in their homes, that doesn’t mean that business has stopped. Investors are still looking for companies, entrepreneurs are seeking advice, and conferences are happening – they’re just all occurring digitally.

Most of the world is working these days remotely, but that doesn’t mean the sense of community needs to stop. You can still network with others in your domain if you find the right groups to join.

4. Connect With People Professionally And Politely

All too often, startup entrepreneurs send out an invitation request on a site – say, LinkedIn, for example. In that invitation, they include minimal context about why they’re requesting the connection. On the other user’s end, it just shows up as something along the lines of “so-and-so wants to connect.”

What happens next? The recipient deletes or denies the invitation request.

Politeness and professionalism go a long way between opening up a communication dialog and having the recipient shut it down before you even get a chance to say anything. Adding a few phrases like “Dear Mr. Smith” and “thank you for reviewing my request,” go a long way to having someone accept your invitation to connect. It shows you put some thought into writing the connection request and that you are genuinely interested in interacting.

Please also consider mentioning a common link. For example, something along the lines of “I noticed you founded a startup focusing on iOS development as well,” helps the other person understand the motivation behind your contact request.

A kind word helps here, as well. Too much praise may seem disingenuous, but you probably want to connect because something about the person’s work inspires or interests you. Mention that in your connection request so that they know what made you interested in the first place.

There will be some people who will deny your request regardless of what you write, but putting some extra thought into your online networking connection requests will help increase that acceptance rate.

5. Develop Your Online Resources And Pitch

Once someone accepts your connection request, depending on the connection, you may wish to schedule a meeting to discuss your business. If it’s an investor, for example, you’ll want to share your pitch and business information with them.

Historically, you would have had a few presentations, bullet points, slides, and so on that you could have shown prospective clients and partners. With COVID-19, it’s imperative to develop these resources further. Since the vast majority of your communication will be online, you’re going to be able to give your presentations and talks over the internet.

Develop sharable presentations, fact sheets, and other pertinent information about your business. Practice making your pitches online. Have relevant coworkers join an online meeting, go over your decks, and solicit feedback.

Giving a presentation online isn’t quite the same as giving one in the real world. People are sometimes a little more easily distracted working from home, and it’s easy to remain on mute without necessarily paying attention. Therefore, it’s essential to have a captivating presentation that compels people to listen. Practicing those discussions with coworkers will prepare you for when you network with others.

6. Attend Virtual Conferences

Most conferences have shifted to an online format. The issue with attending meetings online is that you miss the face-to-face networking opportunities that come with attending these conferences live. There are no opportunities to talk with people and make connections.

However, just because the conferences are online, doesn’t mean you cannot network. On sites like Meetup, there are plenty of people who are virtually coming together to attend these conferences. Some companies are also offering the ability to discuss the talks with organizers. This feature will give you some of the benefits of traditional meetings. You’ll be able to interact with people online to review the presentations and exchange ideas.

It might not be quite the same as flying there and attending in-person, but it’s the best substitute possible given the coronavirus situation.

7. Be Concise And Direct

Be direct with your prospective connections. An investor will know you’re likely connecting with them to make a pitch. If they accepted and have been messaging with you, that means they must see enough potential that they want to learn more.

Online networking can sometimes be difficult because people skim the text you write. If you put an essential point in a long paragraph of text like “I’d love to tell you more about my company, can we schedule 30 minutes?” people are going to gloss right over it.

Write short sentences and put your most important information up top. That way, people are more likely to read what you want them to know and the actions you want them to take.

8. Have A Video Chat Solution That Anyone Can Use

Your business might already have a video chat solution like Slack or Microsoft Teams that your employees can use. When networking online, however, you’re going to need a solution that everyone can join.

Teams will let you send out a meeting link to anyone, and they’ll need to download the client or join via the web. Zoom also lets you video chat with others fairly quickly. Other solutions don’t have this. Ensure that whatever video conferencing solution you use also has a public option, so if you happen to network with an investor that’s interested in your company, you’re not scrambling last minute to find a way to hop on a conference call with them.

9. Fit Time In Every Day To Network

When you’re in the office or a shared coworking space, it’s relatively easy to network. You’re always physically around entrepreneurs, or you’re talking with clients, or maybe you’re taking some documents to your accountant. There are ample opportunities to network and socialize with fellow entrepreneurs.

However, when you’re working from home, those opportunities do not naturally arise. You’re not going to a coworking space and meeting other people. You’re sitting at home!

Therefore, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to network online. Make some time every single day to ensure that you’re meeting people continuously.

By having some consistency, you’ll mimic going into an office in the physical world where you would get the opportunity to meet people daily.

10. Proofread Everything

Grammar and spelling matter. One study showed that websites with sloppy grammar and spelling had a bounce rate that was 85% higher than those without these types of errors. In other words, if 20% of people would leave the site usually, adding in lousy spelling and grammar would make that figure nearly 40%!

You’re going to be sending out a lot more connection requests, emails, and so forth working from home than you might otherwise do regularly. In these emails, grammar and spelling are essential. Ensure that you proofread your communications so that you don’t unwittingly create a negative first impression.

Virtual Networking May Feel Different, But The Core Principles Are The Same

Online networking for startups and entrepreneurs may seem less intuitive at first, but it’s not impossible by any means. Remember that you’re all in the same situation, so don’t feel like you’re the only one missing out on networking opportunities – everyone is right now.

Focus primarily on your professional profile, first. If you haven’t updated your LinkedIn or created a Meetup profile, now’s the chance to do so. You’re going to be referencing it a lot in your networking requests online. Then move on to finding people with whom you want to connect. Make your requests polite, professional, and make sure the other person knows why you want to connect. Be direct, but not overzealous. Attend virtual conferences and find others who are as genuinely passionate about those events as you are. Of course, proofread everything, so you don’t have typos and other mistakes that create an unfortunate first impression.

However, even though the method of networking is changing, the core principles remain the same. Look for people with whom you can share knowledge, create a connection, and advance your business in some meaningful way. Being an entrepreneur has some challenging moments (even more so when you’re trying to run a business from home), but building a quality network of like-minded, talented individuals will help you succeed in the long run.

Fortunately, technology empowers us all to continue to network and succeed, even as we stay at home to help stop COVID-19.

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