Most start-ups think about the systems and processes they need to get in place in order to sustain their business. In doing so they neglect one essential aspect, their networks.
I’ve been working in the communication industry for the past decade. Getting to know businesses across various industry disciplines, from finance to health and technology, it seems that the upper management of these multinationals or SMEs all seem to have a handle on the fundamentals of starting a business.
Of course a tech company would say to focus on the IT infrastructure first, and a financial would say that cash flow is essential. They’re not wrong, mind you, but for me the first thing to get right is You.
Getting the edge
In their book, The Start-up of You, Reid Hoffman, cofounder and chairman of Linkedin, and entrepreneur and author Ben Casnocha highlight various characteristics that may give the individual an edge when starting a new business.
Even if you aren’t starting a new business, it’s important to think of yourself as “an entrepreneur at the helm of one living, growing start-up venture: your career.” While the book is a tome of good advice and practical strategic direction, I’d rather focus on one element that I believe most individuals are neglecting, and that is cultivating their networks.
People underestimate the importance of a network. My old boss used to tell me that you don’t go to university just for an education; you go there to meet people. Think about it, it doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in, invariably you’d have to interact with people.
Cultivating these relationships are essential, and I’m not referring solely to your one-on-one connections. Social platforms such as Facebook or Linkedin can give you a great indication on ‘mutual friends’ or second to third degree connections.
While your personal network may only be a few hundred strong, the connections of connections of connections could drive this number into the millions. If you’re looking for an opportunity, including one that has a financial payoff, you’re really looking for a person.
The great differentiator
Bill Gates said, “The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competitors, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose.”
This is true, especially today. But the way we’ve been trained to think about information is flawed. Our education system trains us to memorise facts and commit them to paper on exam day.
As a professional, you can’t acquire knowledge this way – it’s not static, it’s ever changing, and every day is exam day. Stockpiling facts and statistics won’t get you anywhere. What will get you somewhere is being able to access information when and where you need it.
Growing your network
But where do you get this intelligence? By talking to people in your network.
Ultimately it’s people who help you understand your assets, aspirations and the market realities. It’s people who help you vet and get introduced to potential new allies and trusted connections. But relationships are like any living thing; if they’re not getting stronger, they’re getting weaker.
There are various strategies you can employ to nurture and grow your network. Consider the following:
- Signing up for a Linkedin account – it’s free and easy to use – and start looking for personal and professional connections – individuals you have met and know offline.
- Strengthen ties with existing connections by sharing content that is relevant to them. Let’s call this network intelligence – you look to them for knowledge and opportunities, best you provide the same.
- Attend conferences or join clubs. Better yet, start your own.
- I think it’s fair to assume that you’ve mapped out a plan for your start-up – where you would like to be in five to ten years. Have you mapped your network to aid you in achieving this?
- Drive it. Don’t hope to get an introduction, ask for one. You can also arrange introductions for other members of your network. If you’re not doing this, you’re not fully leveraging your network.
Your network can propel you and your business to new heights. But you’re not a Kardashian, so you can’t just hitch a ride on daddy’s reputation (albeit it a slightly marred reputation) – you have to put in the work to see the results.