So last week I spoke at a competition for entrepreneurial students at Illinois State University. I have to admit, it was a pretty impressive affair. Sixteen students presented their ideas to a committee of judges comprised of entrepreneurs, angel investors, and faculty advisors. Then, three student teams presented a business plan, and the winning team received $20,000 in start-up money and in-kind services to help get their business off the ground. The winning team from the previous year came in and spoke, and they are about to close a $300,000 investor deal to take their concept to the next level. It was really awesome to see so many driven, motivated, creative, and passionate people.
But, as in any group of people (but especially college kids who don’t have much real-world business experience), there were a few things that some of them did that were – what’s the nicest way to say this? – hilariously terrible. Ordinarily I would approach this in my standard backwards way, but in an effort to be more directly helpful than normal, I’d like to highlight a few networking tips for the next time you’re trying to network with a group of people who might be helpful to you, your business, or your entrepreneurial dream.
Make No Effort to Collect Business Cards! – This one is dedicated to a lovely college student I know who is completely terrified of asking people for business cards; she thinks it’s rude to impose upon someone. And it totally is, just like it’s super rude to impose upon the grocery store check-out person to scan your purchases for you. So let me spell this out for the new networkers out there: you’re supposed to ask for business cards at a networking event. That’s why people go to them. Literally no one alive will be offended if you ask them for their card, even if it’s abundantly clear to both of you that your respective interests have absolutely nothing in common. Seriously, that’s the reason business cards come in packs of 1,000.
Ask Someone to Read Your Business Plan at a Networking Event! – This is the polar opposite of the point I just mentioned, and it’s just as bad. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but no one is going to take 30 minutes out of their networking time to read your proposal. Get their card, email them later, and then ask if they’ll read it. Oh, and one more thing: you should blink a couple times when you talk to somebody. Because the guy who asked me to read his business proposal – no blinking. Not once. His lack of blinking actually started to hypnotize me after a while.
Dress Like You’re Going to a Kegger! –I wish I could properly articulate the exact difference between “business casual” and “barfly casual,” but I know the difference involves T-shirts and woven sandals. If you can’t be bothered to dress nicely at a once-a-year event, odds are you can’t be bothered to execute your business as effectively as you should. Is that a fair statement? Maybe not; after all, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But every single one of us does.
So there you go. I hope this helps, and I’d be willing to bet you’ll see some of the new businesses I heard these kids talking about popping up in the next few years.