Dove Mountain, Tucson was the site of the second annual Goldman Sachs Builders + Innovators Summit last week. The purpose of the summit is for all involved to meet and learn more about the next wave (notice, I did not say generation) of intriguing growth companies. While there was a fair amount of tech companies, they differed greatly in what it means to be a tech company. One of my favorites is the Lynda.com approach - that teaches us all about using tech. There were also consumer products (Method, Birchbox, and the ultimate chocolate experience, Vosges ), health and recreation (my legs are still aching from the SoulCycle experience), business services (Grossman & Partners/Zeitguide), and nonprofits (The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon). All very different types of businesses (and I wish I could name all 100), yet all sharing the drive for growth, and the challenges of leading growth.
Defining what you want to grow is one of the challenges. While all of the businesses I mentioned above are focused on growth in different ways, all are also about impact. They were invited to the conference based on their potential for changing the world. What's your plan?
While the gathering of these people and companies is amazing, it is the fact that most are still figuring out some aspect of growing all out. And most that I talked with had a few particular individuals in mind that they wanted to meet while there were there. So, no matter where you are in the business launch or growth process, it's helpful to think about what works in networking. The B+I Summit is actually organized to promote networking among all the participants - time and activities designed to encourage mixing and mingling. Not all events are that well thought through as to their delivery design. Even so, here are 5 Ps to help you think through your networking strategy. I'll even admit that when I started this blog there were only four - it's a work in progress.
Preparation: This actually has two parts - selecting the right event and then preparing to attend that event. The amount of events with the word "entrepreneurship" or "small business" in them has grown at what seems like an exponential pace, with every type of sponsor imaginable. This can be a good thing, but you can't go to everything. Look at your growth plan, decide where you need the most help and who (or what kind of person) can most help, and select the event you know they are most likely to attend. This means that you now recognize that it's actually not helpful to go to an event with a goal of meeting as many people as possible. Quantity is not what counts when it comes to card collecting.
Position: Once you get to the event, think about where you walk, stand, stroll, etc. whatever your pace. Going straight to a designated table and sitting down is not helpful. If you are focused on meeting one of the speakers, get to their session early and try to meet them before they speak. After they speak there is often a line and you tend to get lost in the shuffle. If your goal is to connect to a participant, it can be helpful to watch the entry way, or be near the refreshments (in some cases this means the bar).
Persistence: What happens if your first plan doesn't work? Have a back-up plan. If you are trying to meet that speaker before their talk, but they arrive late and hustle straight to the stage, what is plan B? I actually had a networking plan for the B+I conference that finally ended up successfully - at Plan D.
Package: This is the content. It might be a physical thing to share, like a card, or even some kind of sample, if it's small and something a person wouldn't mind carrying. More likely it's the content of your message. Very short. Who you are, why you are glad to meet them, and what you think you have in common to pursue. This is the thing you bring to them as well as what they might bring to you. Networking has to be a two way street to be successful. And did I mention that this has to be very short.
Passion: Yes, this is the part I added. If your heart isn't totally into this, let it go because it will show. People are attracted to enthusiasm and commitment. If you aren't passionately attached to whatever it is you are pursing or growing, why should they be?
One of the very neat things at B+I was the Zeitguide, the best prep tool, or as they call it, "travel guide" for attending an event that I've ever seen. It included an overview of the event and the attendees, including research on what connects them as well as the latest research on leadership skills. What I loved was the culture "s"h"elf" - which Brad Grossman, the creator, described as a curated walk through relevant culture, including books, films (I learned to say this instead of movies), art and music. So to close, thanks to Brad for raising the context quota and I'm off to read The Bloody Chamber, go see Gravity (again), ponder The Last Pictures, and listen to "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy."
Patricia is the National Academic Director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.