Energizing Your Network – Written By Doug Neal

In a few weeks we are going to be taking 25 entrepreneurial students to New York City and another 50 students to the Bay Area.  The purpose for these trips is to both help these students move their business ideas forward and, more importantly, to build their entrepreneurial networks!

As Armando Pauker, General Partner at Apex Ventures, stated in his presentation at Entrepreneurship Hour a few weeks ago:  “Most of the deals that come to me are through referrals and my trusted network”.

Many first time entrepreneurs undervalue the significance of cultivating and leveraging a strong network.  For them, the obstacles to success are removed by their own creative powers, moments of brilliance, tenacity and long hours of hard work.

While it is true those skills and activities are essential to removing obstacles and propelling your ideas forward they are significantly inefficient, at best, and most likely thwarted without building and leveraging an entrepreneurial network.

What is an entrepreneurial network?

Basically, it is a group of individuals involved in startups (entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, mentors, lawyers, etc.) that you have established a connection with that you know and know you (or at least know of you and would respond positively to your e-mail).

How do you create such a network?

Creating a functional network is primarily done in two fundamental ways:  The first is physically meeting people and engaging in at least a brief dialog to ensure there is a proper match and the second is being introduced by someone to that contact.

When should I start creating a network?

Yesterday!  You can’t start this process early enough and you don’t want to start building your network when you need it – by then it is too late.  Building a good network takes a lot of time.  You need to think of your network as a long-term investment and it takes time and effort to build… get going!

How do you leveraging your entrepreneurial network?

There are many ways to do this but the most effective tool out there is LinkedIn.com.   I can hear the students groaning as I say this with complaints like “I use facebook, not LinkedIn…” but believe me, these two websites are completely different!  Facebook is a social network – LinkedIn is a business network… it is your online resume, business card and introduction vehicle for venture creation.

Most importantly, keep in mind that your network is a living-breathing thing!  It isn’t a website or a Rolodex.  It isn’t a tool that you can leverage when you want and ignore the rest of the time.  It requires periodic care and feeding.

Again, although you may not have a new business idea right now that you are working on you can’t afford not to be building your entrepreneurial network so it is ready when you are!

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