Building and tapping into an effective network is essential in starting and growing a successful business. Networking is about establishing and building positive relationships with potential clients, peers and partners to help you and your business advance.

The key to networking is the establishment of mutually beneficial relationships, developing a collection of people who can help each other with ideas, support, business referrals and growth.

A strong network helps to get things done. No individual or team can know everything, but a network of trusted contacts can provide a breadth of knowledge, experience and contacts.

Startups can use networking in many ways:

  1. Motivation: build a supportive peer group including other startups, people that you can trust, bounce ideas off, learn from and just have some fun
  2. Introductions to potential clients
  3. Tap into talent: build a network of people with a range of skills and experience in key areas of interest
  4. Get stuff done more quickly: learn from the experience of others
  5. Find great service providers and referrals to investors
  6. A sounding board to develop your idea
  7. Build a reputation: target opinion leaders and media to build the buzz about you and your business, word of mouth is frequently cited as a leading source of new business enquiries for start-ups

Practical tips to develop your network:

  1. Recognise that your network already exists and includes past and former study and work colleagues, family, friends, business associates etc. Take a sheet of paper and write down key contacts from life to date that could be helpful to you, and vise versa.
  2. Identify any industry groups, Meetups etc. that are useful to you and begin to tap into them and become a valuable and contributing part of them.
  3. Sketch out a Network Map: think about your business, places, clients, partners, research and educational institutes, profession, skills, interests, goals, etc., then map out key areas it where it would be good to know good people.
  4. Identify and build your relationship with the ‘human hubs’ for each key part of your network map – identify the best connected and most influential people who can open the door to many other useful connections.
  5. Get your world in one room: most industries have a key conference which brings together key players from around the world, find your event, get to know how it works and make the most of the opportunities to build relationships with existing and new contacts
  6. Network meetings: as a startup – or any other business – you have a licence to approach anyone and ask for the benefit of their experience in a brief meeting, this approach
  7. A little bit of technology goes along way:  keep track of your connections and find new ones via Linkedin. Six degrees of separation has been replaced by 2 or 3 in the digital world.

Finally, innovation is a contact sport and the development of social networks between entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and others has been critical to the development of innovation hubs around the world. Building productive networks can deliver massive advantages for entrepreneurs, businesses and regions with key players tapping into the collective talent, wisdom, experience, resources and wider networks of its members.

Colin Graham, Causeway Innovation www.causewayinnovation.com