While setting up a company in Singapore, one of the world’s most competitive economy, can take only a couple of hours, building your client base and expanding your business network is an entirely different story. It will require a lot of time and effort especially if your first-time entrepreneur. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur in your chosen industry, you will need all the help, advice, and support that you can get.
In an interview with Amsterdam Printing, Michelle Garett, a small business owner, highlighted the importance of connecting with fellow entrepreneurs: “Small business owners need to do more networking to make more contacts, not only for possible referrals but as resources and even as friends you can turn to when you have a question or problem related to your business.”
We have also discussed the importance of maintaining good relationships in our blog post “Tips for the Employee Turned Entrepreneur” to make the transition smoother. Remember, when you are just starting out, your family, friends or former colleagues can be your first set of customers or even refer you to others.
Not everyone is a natural at networking. Some entrepreneurs excel in conceptualizing, negotiating, or creating but are inexperienced in promoting, networking or selling. The good thing is networking is a skill that you can learn through constant practice. In the beginning, it can be daunting the more you immerse yourself in more networking activities, the easier it will be for you to get used to it.
How networking helps entrepreneurs
Networking can open a world of opportunities for both you and your business. It can:
- help expand your client base
- help you generate valuable insights be it about the industry, sector, competitors, strategies that work for other entrepreneurs and more
- improve the credibility of your business
- get you referrals and endorsements
- help you acquire advice from fellow entrepreneurs especially those who are more experienced than you
Where can you build your network?
There are many places where you can hone your networking skills and connect with like-minded individuals. It is just a matter of choosing where you can focus more. Here are a few examples:
• Reconnect with colleagues from your college or university. Most, if not all, have alumni associations where you can get in touch with your fellow alumni, attend reunions or networking events. For example, National University Singapore has an Office of Alumni Relations, Nanyang Polytechnic has an NYP Alumni portal, and the same goes for Singapore Polytechnic.
• Join Professional Associations. There are professional associations and organisations across various industries in Singapore. If you are an engineer, you may be interested in attending events at the Institution of Engineers Singapore or if you are a nurse in the city-state, you can join Singapore Nurses Association events that are updated on Facebook.
• Engage in Social Media Networking. Widen your network by joining Facebook groups that are related to your area of expertise and interests, join industry discussions on LinkedIn, or engage with and follow people who are in the same industry on Twitter.
• Exchange views with fellow entrepreneurs in relevant online forums and platforms. Doing so will not only build your credibility but also open an avenue for you to have intelligent discussions with people in the same industry. You can try answering questions in Quora or join discussions on appropriate subreddits like r/Singapore, r/entrepreneur or r/startups. Hardwarezone and Expat Singapore are some of the most popular forums in Singapore where you can exchange ideas with like-minded people.
• Visit trade shows, talks and conferences related to your industry. If you are looking to improve your speech skills, why not try joining Toastmasters Club of Singapore? If you are interested in talks, you can try attending TEDxSingapore.
• And last but not the least, attend networking events.
Networking Tips for Entrepreneurs
Prior to the event
- Plan and prepare ahead. Set your goals for networking. Determine what you want to achieve. Are you looking for business partners? Do you need advice from expert entrepreneurs? Do you need referrals? Are you interested in getting new clients? Or do you simply want to connect with fellow entrepreneurs? The clearer your goals are, the easier it will be for you.
- Look for the right event. If you are looking to connect with the right kind of people, you need to look at the right places. Don’t just show up at random gatherings. Spend your time networking with people who can help you improve as a business owner. Research which event or gathering can help you achieve your goals.
- Do your research. Find out who you need to meet at the networking event. If you are keen on talking with someone who is also attending, what can help you engage with that person? In an article published by The Telegraph, Gary Mucklow, Chief Executive of Postcode Anywhere, advised business owners to “Make a mental note of common areas of interest and discussion points that will make your conversation smoother and more interesting when you meet in person.”
- Make sure you have your business cards ready.
During the event
- Create a good first impression. Dress appropriately. Consider the nature of the event, location, and the people you will be interacting with. If you are attending a gathering in a fine dining restaurant, go formal. If you are attending a startup talk at Block 71, dress down.
- Be punctual. More than appearing unprofessional, coming in late to a roomful of people who are already engaged in conversation may not be the best thing.
- Be confident. Look approachable. And keep an open mind before you even talk to anyone.
- Keep the conversation light. Be genuinely curious about other people. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
- No hard sell of your products or services. Do not treat every conversation as an opportunity to sell or you might end up annoying people. Just think about the event as a chance to make new friends. If they like you, chances are they might be more willing to know more about what you do or even recommend your business to others.
- Listen intently. Guy Kawasaki said that “The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozer’s are good listeners, not good talkers.” If you want to connect with people, listen and pay attention to what they are telling you.
After the event
- Follow up. So you went home with a bag full of business cards. What do you do next?
- Send a quick email. It does not need to be too formal or too long. Make sure to mention the event where you met them or reference what you talked about during the event to help jog their memory. Here’s an example of a simple email: “Hi Mike, It was a pleasure meeting you at the Startup Singapore event last Saturday. We talked about emerging markets in Asia and I was wondering if continue our discussion. Are you free to grab coffee or lunch next week? Best Regards, Mars”
- Invite them on LinkedIn or other professional network so it will be easier to connect later on.
- Maintain the connection. Whether it is through SMS, e-mails, phone calls, or meeting up, try your best to stay connected with people. Don’t just touch base when you need help.
How about you? Do you have any networking tips? Share them with us!