Five Networking Tips for Startups

12/07/2016 09:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2016-11-30-1480512426-3319152-ObinnaEkezie.pngBy Obinna Ekezie

Want to streamline success as a startup? Networking is the ultimate route, and the reasons are endless. You'll meet investors. You'll meet leaders in your industry who can help spread the word about your brand. You'll meet potential team members. You'll also meet new clients and discover opportunities you didn't even know existed.

When I launched my online travel company back in 2008, I got serious about networking, and it helped me create the successful company I have today.

Since then, I've gathered some of my favorite networking methods that continue to work for me. 

Be Mindful of Your Online Presence

Modern day networking begins with a strong online presence across your company's website and social media channels. Thousands of worldwide connections can be made in a click, so make sure your online presence is up to par.

Keep your web platforms seamless and consistent with your brand's image. From LinkedIn to Facebook and your company's website, make sure they each consistently tell the story of your brand. Your personal social media channels should be even sharper: After all, this is where most connections will come from, so make sure you have a clean profile void of any nonsense on these platforms.

A few of our latest business partners came from my personal LinkedIn connections. For business-oriented social media, you can't beat LinkedIn. Start there with a strong personal profile, and build connections with notable names in your industry.

Remember: You're the Product

When networking, keep in mind that you're the product. People want value, and a first-person view of the person running the company is what they will see first. Regardless of whether you're selling wine or travel arrangements, you're at the front line, so be knowledgeable and enthusiastic. This means respectfully carrying yourself both online and at events.

At events in the past, there have been a few people I couldn't wait to meet based on their success, but once I met them, the idea of creating any type of business relationship with them -- or even meeting them for dinner -- went out the door.

Always Be on the Lookout 

Don't just wait for planned events to network. Frequent places where others mingle, and build a rapport there. Go to as many events as possible in your industry, from fundraisers to major conferences.

The travel industry is loaded with events all around the world. If I'm at a conference or meeting in one city, I'm always checking to see if something is happening in that area. I've made some of my biggest connections at events I initially didn't even plan on attending; I ended up there simply from being in the right place at the right time.

Create a Strategy With Planned Goals

So far, we've discussed opportunities for serendipitous networking. But what if you're looking to meet someone specific? First, find out where you can meet, then create a strategy with planned goals. Treat it as if it were a meeting. But remember, sometimes events or even social media messages can get chatty, and many leaders and CEOs are extremely pressed for time.

When creating your strategy, ask yourself a few questions: How will this person add value to your company? When's the best time to reach them? How will you open up a rapport with them? The biggest question you need to answer -- mostly for them -- is why you are creating rapport. It's not just about what type of value they can bring, but what type of value you can deliver.

Stay Connected

Networking never ends. Whenever you make a new connection, make it a habit to immediately follow up, either that day or the next. It can be a simple email, text or call, as long as you make sure to follow up while you're still fresh in their minds.

This shows motivation and further solidifies your passion, not just for your company, but also your personal brand.

If content is king, then networking is queen. Never miss an opportunity to network, whether it's a huge industry event or meeting with someone who reached out on LinkedIn. Put your personal brand out there and keep it at the top of everyone's minds. 

Obinna Ekezie is the co-founder and CEO of Wakanow.com, the leading full-service, online travel company in Africa.