Just because you’ve graduated from college doesn’t mean your alma mater needs to become a distant memory. By staying connected with your college through an alumni organization, you can build relationships with students who are studying to enter your field and other alumni who are professionals and potential partners, and even boost your brand profile by sponsoring events and becoming a presence on campus. This guide offers ideas for how to engage with your college’s alumni network for the benefit of your small business.
An alumni network is an organization created by either a college/university or alumni to keep graduates connected with other alumni, current students and the school’s faculty. Alumni networks allow people with shared experiences and similar interests to network on an ongoing basis. That could mean introducing employers to graduating students, connecting potential business partners with one another, or helping to mutually promote the school and alumni brands. Alumni networks can be a powerful tool and useful resource if you know how to leverage them correctly.
Some people claim that college is a waste of money for entrepreneurs. But if you’ve gone to college before launching your business, you can definitely leverage the resources it offers even as a graduate, including your alma mater’s alumni network.
Alumni networks offer several key benefits to small businesses. Here are some of the most important advantages:
Alumni networks frequently connect graduates with current students, making them fertile ground for identifying qualified job candidates and building relationships with them early. Whether you’re looking to offer internships or hire recent graduates for open positions, your alumni network is a great first stop. And because you can trust your alumni network, it adds a layer of vetting in the recruitment process.
It’s not just outgoing students you’ll connect with in an alumni network; other alumni are also looking for business contacts. You may find your next supplier at an alumni networking event, and maybe they’ll cut you a deal based on your shared background. Or, maybe you’ll pick up some new clients who can benefit from your services. Alumni networks usually contain diverse populations of entrepreneurs and professionals of all stripes, and you never know who you’re going to meet or how you can help one another.
Alumni networks often hold events on campus or virtually, and many times, they will be looking for sponsors. Spending a little money to get your brand front and center (and maybe even secure some speaking time) can be well worth it; the more you become a fixture in your alumni organization, the more influence you may have. Additionally, your target audience is likely active in your alumni organization, and spending a bit of your marketing and advertising budget to sponsor events periodically may pay off with new clients and increased brand visibility.
Being part of an alumni network allows you to be a mentor and continue learning. You can coach students based on your experience, helping them enter your industry and possibly connecting you with top talent in the process. Or, you can learn from other members of your alumni network who may have faced similar business or professional challenges as you did. Thanks to the broad range of wisdom and experience an alumni network brings together, the mentorship opportunities that come along with staying connected to your fellow alumni can be valuable.
There are a few simple ways you can make the most of your alumni network. Here’s how to get started:
A lot of schools have alumni networking events and mentorship programs for students and alumni. Two benefits of these events are the most commonly offered alumni perks.
Debra Rizzi, president of marketing agency Rizco, said her alma mater, Bucknell University, “has embraced technology and offers professional development webinars, schedules online speed networking through a proprietary chat platform, and provides a free Bucknell alumni app that can pinpoint an alum who lives around the corner, on the other side of the world, or works at a specific corporation, within minutes.”
Grinnell College in Iowa holds Pioneer Weekend, which, according to its website, is an opportunity for students to “showcase and validate their ideas, experiences, and innovation through a three-day competition.” There are cash prizes and a focus on educating, networking and having fun.
“Alumni serve as mentors, provide mini workshops and serve as judges,” said Monty Roper, director of the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership at Grinnell College. “We also connect teams from the competition who are interested in continuing to work on their business ideas with alumni who can provide mentorship.”
On LinkedIn, it’s easy to find other alumni. You should list your alma mater on your profile; when you click the college name, it brings you to a group.
Click the “See alumni” button. LinkedIn will display a list of where alumni live and work and what they do. You can search alumni by title, keyword or company. LinkedIn also displays the year your fellow alumni graduated. You can even search by graduation year. Send a Connect request to get them in your circle.
Alumni networks often host events, both in person and virtually. Attend these events regularly to become a familiar face with students and other alumni. The more active you are in your alumni network by attending and sponsoring events, the more likely it will be that people come to you to make valuable connections.
In many cases, a volunteer group of alumni will help coordinate and host events. If you can, get involved with this leadership group to really take things to the next level. While this may require some additional effort on your part, it’s guaranteed to boost your profile. So, if you find your alumni network to be a valuable resource, consider doubling down to support and grow it.
Like many things in business and in life, what you get out of an alumni network will depend on what you put into it. By frequently showing up and actively participating in your alumni organization, you show that you are dedicated to your network. For many businesses, engaging with an alumni network is a great way to recruit and hire top talent, meet new business contacts, and extend their brand to a whole new group of people.