Networking is an essential activity for entrepreneurs. They are constantly looking for potential customers, partners, and everyone in between. Networking is often what sets a company apart from their competition. The ability to move quickly and adapt requires you to have a strong network. 


Customers

Networking isn’t just about fundraising and partnerships, especially for new businesses. For companies first starting out, knowing exactly who your market is can be difficult. A lot of times you may talk to someone who isn’t in your market and realize your product could better serve an entirely different group of people. The more people you talk to the better understanding you have of the market, and hopefully the more customers you gain. 


Partners

Like networking for customers, networking for partners is all about what you don’t know. Typically you’ll have more success finding business partners when talking to a lot of people, instead of pursuing one or two specific individuals. Networking with leaders outside of your industry can pay off in different ways. You may find someone who has an unexpected strength or weakness that can either help you or that your company can help them with. You may also be able to break into another industry. Depending on the company size and maturity, entering other markets may be what’s next. The common misconception for new business owners is the attitude that partnerships form when they are needed or that deals will come to you. Regardless of how innovative a company is, partnerships are built by networking and actively seeking out these partnerships. 


When networking, it is important to keep an open mind. If you go into a conversation believing you won’t get anything out of knowing the other person, you won’t. However, going into the conversation wanting to learn more about the other individual will expose you to ideas you didn’t know about (or didn’t understand the value). While the quantity of people you talk to is important, networking for the sake of networking can be counterproductive. Entrepreneurs should never talk to a potential customer or business partner just to say they’ve talked to them. Whether your company is just starting up or has been in business for generations, remember that great networking can affect your business in ways you can’t imagine.