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Hi! I’m Mona Ghazi, Co-Founder and CEO of Optimo. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and education, which is why I’m building a platform for production employees, to address the need to upskill for industry 4.0 and exchange knowledge. The vision is to empower people to fulfil their full potential through networking and lifelong learning.

If you’ve ever wondered about how to network as an entrepreneur, what it is useful for, and what it could bring you, you’re in the right place.

My Networking Journey

I dove into the world of entrepreneurship at the young age of 14. I’d skipped two years ahead at school and began studying economics. Initially I was struggling to do well in tests, but through my extracurricular studies, I found alternative ways of learning and formed a network of students who were in the same position as me.

I was curious, and had lots of ideas I wanted to try. When I was 16, I built a  time management app to teach people how to use their time in a more efficient way. I had this idea, but I didn’t know how to go about founding a start-up, so I googled it. The first steps were writing a business plan, registering your company, and doing all the legal stuff.

This process led me to my first experiences of professional networking. I talked to a lawyer, a business angel, and my teachers who all had to vouch that my idea was a good one and I had what it took to start a business. Then, I received a court certificate to register my company. This made me the youngest person ever to open a business account at my local bank. I spoke to a consultant and founder who connected me to other people and helped me apply to local pitching events.

I realised the value of talking to one person and getting introduced to the next, having my ideas questioned and challenged. It’s quite rare at the age of 16 to be able to pitch your start-up idea in front of 50 people. I entered pitching competitions and expanded my network as much as I possibly could. These experiences were invaluable for my entrepreneurship journey and contributed to getting me where I am today.

Why Is Networking so Important as an Entrepreneur?

Networking is important in most careers, whether you’re an artist, an entrepreneur or a journalist. It’s especially vital if you’re a budding entrepreneur with a bright idea, but little idea how to get it off the ground. When you start, it’s tempting to think you should do everything yourself, but that’s not the best way to go about it. That’s why companies have many employees, and why brainstorming is better with more people.

Surrounding yourself with people who can advise you, answer your questions, and help you with your venture is crucial to be successful. The goal of networking is having people you can go to if you need advice or access to something. That greatly accelerates your learning, as you can ask people for answers to problems you have without having to come up with solutions yourself.

How to Start Networking?

Contrary to what you might think, networking is a skill you can learn and develop. Obviously, some people might have facilities with it – if you’re an introvert, it can take you a lot more effort and energy to go out and meet people than an extroverted person. However, don’t let your character and preferences get in the way of networking opportunities. I treat networking as any other task; with practice, it becomes a habit.

Another thing to get used to is the slightly transactional aspect of networking as an entrepreneur. Generally, you are trying to form relations which will be useful to you, and people you’ll be able to ask for advice in the future. I counter this by always wondering what I can bring to people too, treating the relationship like a two-way street. I also love thinking “Who can I match this person with” when I meet someone. Even if you’re not participating in the connection, it’s a great feeling to introduce two people that can work together well.

It’s important to remember that networking can be fun – you get the opportunity to meet tons of new people who might have great insights and new points of view to share. Be curious, open-minded and get out of your comfort zone.

But how do you go about making contact with people, and finding events to attend?

I would recommend joining founder communities – there tends to be associations in every city. Through these organisations, you can find events to attend and meet plenty of like-minded people to grow your network. While I sometimes set time aside to attend these events, networking can also happen by chance; you could meet someone interesting at a party or a social event, for example.

I find there are two ways of approaching networking. Either look for a person who has a very general skill set: they’ll know how to start a business, how to hire, how to do marketing, etc. Or you could also find an expert in a particular field you need assistance with. Once you’ve found a person you’d like to connect to, look into them, their work and their interests, and see if you might have connections who can introduce you.

Tips to Network as an Entrepreneur

  • Be polite. An obvious one, but networking works a lot better if you’re personable, interested, and polite! This is how your reputation will grow, too, so make sure you make a positive impression on people.
  • Introduce yourself properly. The first thing you do when you meet someone is introduce yourself, so it matters how you do it. People will be a lot less likely to want to know you and help you if they don’t think you can bring anything to the table. It doesn’t help to act like you are less than them. While people love to be flattered, they also want to exchange information with peers in a network. As such, introduce yourself and your business seriously, highlighting how you may be able to help them, too.
  • Find a mentor. Mentorship is vital as an entrepreneur. Look for someone who can give you guidance, but also help you grow your network. While it’s easier to have a mutual connection introduce you to your prospective mentor, I’ve had good results through cold messaging on LinkedIn. Start by asking a small but specific question that only they can answer. Then ask to hop on a quick, 10-minute call. Follow up regularly until you build a relationship, and then ask them if they would like to be your mentor.
  • Limit the number of advisors. At least at the beginning of your journey, there is definitely such a thing as too many mentors and advisors. You don’t want to be flooded with loads of potentially contradicting advice. Find a handful of people who you trust and can ask absolutely anything, and maintain regular contact with them.
  • Use your time wisely. As an entrepreneur, your time is your most valuable resource. As such, you have to be a bit ruthless at networking events. Prioritise the people you know can add value to your network, and find ways to approach them ahead of the event. Practice ways of cutting short conversations that might not lead to a useful connection.
  • Follow up with new connections. The biggest mistake during networking is not following up with someone you’ve met. Once you’ve exchanged contact details, make sure to message them within two days; otherwise, they might forget all about you and your time and efforts will have been wasted!
  • Post on LinkedIn. A good way of keeping your network up to date is regularly posting updates on LinkedIn. Your connections will thus passively consume your content and feel up to date with your actions. These updates can also be useful conversation starters for the next time you meet up with them.

I hope this advice has been useful to you! If you’ve enjoyed reading my insights, connect with me on LinkedIn.

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An exclusive 10-month, fully-sponsored, program designed for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place.

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