Whether you are at an event passing out your business cards or chatting with someone a few states away through email, you’re familiar with networking. The question is, what changed? With the growth of technology, there’s no denying that millennials network differently. Meetups are organized and advertised through networking platforms or social media and filled with people of similar interests. Relationships are built and groups decide to stay in touch more regularly than just bumping into each other every now and then. We connected with the Founder of LincSphere, Christopher Owens. He built the app to optimize power networking and make it easier to connect with others. In this interview, Christopher was able to pinpoint networking flaws and gave advice on how to grow and optimize your network.
What are some tips you can give for networking?
When you meet or speak with a networking contact, be genuinely INTERESTED in them. Ask a lot of questions and be curious. To be clear, DON’T ASK PROSPECTING QUESTIONS. Just learn more about them, not only as a professional, but also as a person. Your goal for this line of questioning is, “Is there any way I can add value to this person’s professional or personal life.” Of course you might be able to help them by selling your product to them, but you should initially place that idea to the side and focus on other ways you can help.
From interacting with this person, see if there is any reason you would want to develop the relationship. Of course, if they want your product, you would want to talk with them further, but there are many other potential reasons for engaging further. Maybe they could be a good referral partner for you. Maybe you have the same hobbies or feel strongly about supporting the same causes. Maybe you could see yourself mentoring them or vice versa. But either find SOME reason for wanting to engage further, or allow yourself to let that contact fall to the wayside, at least for now (maybe that will change the next time you run into them). It is true that you can be too narrow-minded in your networking, only keeping the business cards of potential customers. But it is also true that you can be too unrestricted in your networking, keeping the cards of every single person you meet ‘just in case’. When you do that, you will end up diluting your interest for networking in general, because you feel obligated to follow-up with contacts you have no real interest in.
What are common networking mistakes?
1) Talking too much and too early about yourself instead of asking questions and listening to the other person.
2) Not following up regularly with the people you want to build relationships with. There’s a statistic in sales that 80% of sales happen from the 5th to the 12th contact with someone. The same basic principle applies to building relationships in networking.
3) Not networking until you need it. Networking is the LONG game. It takes time and repeated contact to build a relationship usually. Sure, there are occasional times you will get instant gratification from a networking contact (someone wants to do business with you right after you met them) but those instances are the outliers. Start building your network when you DON’T need it and it will be there for you when you do.
What is the biggest difference between small businesses and startups?
Well, the best definition I’ve ever seen is from author Steve Blank, who explains that a startup is not merely a smaller version of a larger company. It is a temporary organization in search of a business model. In other words, a startup ‘isn’t quite sure what it will be when it grows up’. Startups are often creating new markets, trying to solve problems others have not tackled yet, or finding an innovative way to solve an old problem. So startups are always operating on a certain set of ASSUMPTIONS about who their customers are, what their problems are and what kind of solutions they are looking for. The startup, in it’s early days, is testing their assumptions and seeing how the market reacts. In the end they may find that the customer they are really servicing and the exact problem they are addressing are a few (or many) degrees away from where they started, and so they adjust course and change their business model to fit that. Or they could find that they were completely wrong about the problem they were solving and might shut down.
On the other hand, a small business is starting a company of which there is already a clear market, clear customers, a clear problem and lots of competition. There are FAR fewer unknowns in a small business. Their main issue is just how well they execute the processes and methods that have already been proven out hundreds or thousands of times by other companies.
How has networking changed for millennials?
Well I can’t speak from the millennial perspective, because I’m not one. But the main difference I see now from a decade or so ago is that there are so many more ways to communicate. Used to be you could meet someone in person, call on the phone, or email and that was it. Now if you reach out to a networking contact you can call, text, IM, email, Skype, connect on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn or a host of other applications. For the most part, this a great advantage over what previous generations had. Not only because of convenience and being able to find the right communication medium your contact likes to use, but also because anyone has a decent chance these days of connecting directly with celebrities or business thought leaders if you do it right. And then there’s how easy international communication is. You no longer have to have a lot of frequent flyer miles in order to have an international network. It’s an amazing time to be networking.
What is the problem LincSphere is trying to solve?
There are two problems, actually. The first is that most people are not organized at all with their networking relationships. They collect a bunch of business cards at events and those cards sit in a pile somewhere on their desk or in a drawer, not doing anyone very much good. There has never been a complete business networking CRM-like tool for easily coordinating all of the actions a person does or should do when building networking relationships, and so we wanted to provide that.
The second issue is actually the more important one. It is that most networkers treat networking as a kind of a self-interested prospecting game. Kind of like cold-calling in person. When done like that it’s kind of like hunting or fishing where the person is only looking for the opportunities immediately available. But the best networkers out there – the power connectors – approach networking more like farming. They are planting seeds, caring for the growth of those relationships and playing the long game. They know that the watchword of all networking is “generosity”. They help their connections without any expectation of a ‘quid pro-quo’ or tit-for-tat. They view it more like ‘karma’ in that they give help freely and just figure it will come back to them somehow. And LincSphere was specifically designed in all its features to promote that generosity mindset in our users.
When is the launch date?
Well as far as the iPhone goes, we ARE launched. The app has been out since summer 2016. We are working on building a web interface now and we’re also working to bring on investors so we can launch the Android version and do a lot more.