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5 Networking Connections Every Entrepreneur Needs to Make

5 Networking Connections Every Entrepreneur Needs to Make

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    Networking is a crucial skill for any entrepreneur. But if a person has been building his network with getting the biggest stack of business cards in the state, that network can be useless. The key to creating a network you can rely on is building a useful network — making connections for specific reasons and finding people that will help you and you can help in return. There are a few connections in particular that you need to make, in order to get ahead.

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    Making these connections isn’t just a matter of seeking out people who you think can be useful to you. Building a network is just as much about helping out the people you connect with as it is finding solutions for your own problems. Furthermore, your efforts to connect with others will be far more enjoyable if you seek out people with whom you actually want to have some sort of relationship or friendship. It is possible to build up a network without a whole lot of sincerity, but it’s not worthwhile. In most communities, though, you can find your connections among people you actually like joining for coffee.

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    1. Your competitors
      It’s worthwhile to know your competitors as well as possible. Get their newsletters, pay attention to their advertising and go one step further — introduce yourself. Even competitors can do your business some good: if you’re on friendly terms, your competitor may just send customers your way if he or she is too busy. And, if a project comes up that you know your competitor would do well at, you can bring in their expertise. At a bare minimum, join the local professional association for your business and make some contacts among the other professionals in your area.
    2. The local media
      These days, media can take many forms: newspapers, television, radio, blogs and more. But it’s worth making at least one or two contacts with members of the media that cover your niche. You’ll have a much easier time of getting a story in the news if you can attach a personal note explaining why you think that the story fits a reporter’s beat — many media members see this sort of help as a favor done to them. If you bring up industry-related stories, where your business isn’t the main focus, you’ll have a better chance of becoming your contact’s go-to-guy for quotes. It’s a long-term strategy, but sharing stories on a regular basis can get your business in the news far more often than even a perfectly crafted newsletter.
    3. A non-profit
      Networking is, in part, about giving back. As an entrepreneur, it’s useful to have connections to local non-profits far beyond the tax break you’ll get for any donations you make. You’ll get word of sponsorship and PR opportunities far faster, learn about projects that might help your business along — and you may even have the chance to do something good for your community. A non-profit doesn’t have to be related to your industry, either: if you’re ready to do some good in your community, why not work on an issue you’re passionate about?
    4. A lawyer or two
      Want the scoop on whether the lawyer handling your business is any good? Have another lawyer in town that you can ask. The same goes for other professions, as well. It’s hard to work with more than one lawyer at a time — and it’s often better to work with a lawyer who isn’t your best friend — but you can know quite a few, and you can keep close tabs on situations that may affect your business. Of course, you don’t want to spend every moment of a lunch pestering a friend for free legal advice, but it is okay to ask the occasional question.
    5. Local politicians
      There isn’t a business in existence that is entirely exempt from local politics. From zoning to licensing, there’s sure to be an area or two in which local politics affects your business. It makes sense to meet the men and women making those decisions: if you do find yourself involved in a political issue, knowing the politicians mixed up in the same issue will at least ensure that your side is heard. Politicians’ influence isn’t the only reason to get involved in local politics, either. Your business is part of the community and that means you probably have some ideas on how your community should operate. Supporting like-minded politicians is a personal decision, but it can have some major ripple effects.

    There’s nothing wrong with going to a networking event with a shopping list of sorts. After all, as an entrepreneur, there are certain people that are going to be better equipped to help you with your business than others. If you have a good idea of who you want to meet — and why — you’ll have a better ROI on every networking event you go to. You can get the introductions out of the way quickly and get down to building a relationship with your new contacts. You may even find yourself on the must-meet list of other entrepreneurs when you attend networking opportunities. You don’t have to limit yourself to events, though: if you’ve heard about someone interesting in your area, there’s nothing mercenary about setting out to meet them. Invite them out to lunch, arrange an introduction through a third party — it’s worth taking a few extra steps to see how you can help a new connection (or maybe even how they can help you).

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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