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Are You Bowling Alone?

Networking skills for entrepreneurs.

Mpho Sefalafala

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Entrepreneurs devote endless time networking with rank-and-file partners – but only a minority have clear strategies that inform their approach to networking activities. The ability of actors to extract benefits from their social structures, networks and memberships in a business relationship has been termed social capital.

Entrepreneurship research propagates that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can exploit advantages from being part of a network.

For instance, membership to a business network can lead to benefits such as making a first sale or gaining access to external resources such as venture capital. SMEs need to realise the social nature of entrepreneurial growth and the importance of networking in growing their companies.

There is consensus among experts that entrepreneurship is not an individual act, operating in isolation from social processes; and that entrepreneurial activities are results of social interactions and mechanisms. Networking or social capital is the missing link and firms can no longer succeed by ‘bowling alone’.

SMEs therefore need to formulate suitable networking strategy at their various growth stages in order to harness the benefits of their alliance networks.

In order to help entrepreneurs with formulating their strategies for networking, this article demystifies the concept of social capital as a multi-dimensional asset inside the business relationships comprising of strong ties and weak ties.

The article also highlights the dynamic nature of social capital at various stages growth of SMEs.

Strong ties

Strong ties refer to the extent that the business relationship between a firm and its partners is marked by the presence of goodwill trust, expectations of mutual benefit, and identification.

The people in this type of entrepreneurial network may share a common identity such as being close friends, or relatives or having worked for the same company. Strong ties can be useful to SMEs in promoting joint problem solving such as the acquisition of human resources (recruitment) with common values and goals.

Entrepreneurs should be careful not to become overly dependent on strong ties because such ties can reduce the flow of new information. Ties to the same network partners may imply that there are few or no links to outside partners who can potentially contribute innovative ideas.

Ties to interrelated partners in the network may led to redundant information being transmitted, resulting in networking activities becoming a time consuming and costly effort.

Weak ties

A weak tie-based network relation means that the persons in question may not personally know each other but may know of each other.

If your company operates in a dynamic industry, there it stands to benefit from weak ties and see more opportunities because of the constant exposure to new ideas from different partners. Weak ties are useful for exchanging valuable information.

Network dynamics

Entrepreneurs build and use networks that vary according to the phase of entrepreneurship. Start-up firms should progress from strong ties of social capital towards weak ties in order to meet the increased quantity and scope of resources needed during the innovation process.

The firm’s social network begins with a base of strong socially embedded ties, and evolves into less cohesive weak ties. As the firm moves into the growth stage in their life-cycle, the network changes from identity-based to an arm’s length ties that are more purposefully managed to explore growth.

Conclusion

Economic activities are embedded in social relationships. Strong and weak ties are not alternatives but complementary assets. For entrepreneurs, strong ties play a crucial role in transmitting sensitive information in social networks whereas weak ties can disperse extremely valuable information.

Strong and weak ties influence performance in different ways depending on the life-cycle of the company and its objectives. SMEs will gain a competitive advantage by effectively managing their network alliances and information flows through maintaining a healthy balance between strong and weak ties in their networks.

 

Mpho Sefalafala is a graduate of the Master of Management (Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation) degree from the Graduate School of Business Administration, Wits Business School (WBS). Sefalafala is the Founder of Born Global Technologies and is currently based at The App Factory, Microsoft. Born Global Technologies helps early-stage entrepreneurs develop and commercialise their social and enterprise mobile apps. His philosophy is that the creation of an entrepreneurial spirit though encouraging a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among teams is the essence of the entrepreneurial revolution. Follow him on Twitter - @BornGlobalTech

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Networking

It’s The Small Things: How To Make A Good Impression On Clients

Read on below for how to stand out from the crowd.

Amy Galbraith

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Impressing clients who visit your office can be quite tricky. You will not want to come off as a business that is trying too hard but at the same time being too casual can be detrimental. And clients also notice small things, such as being greeted by name and offered a beverage while they are waiting for their meeting to start (like a freshly made cappuccino with just the right amount of foam).

To put your best foot forward with your clients, you will need to put in more effort than you are currently. You should invest in coffee machines for your employees and clients, and your office foyer should always be neat, clean and tidy. Your receptionist should know exactly who will be coming in on any given day. Want to make your clients feel special? Read on below for how to stand out from the crowd.

Offer them a hot cuppa (or a well-made coffee)

Offering your clients a perfectly made cup of coffee, tea or other funky coffee ideas is one of the most effective ways to make a good impression. You are showing them that you are thinking about them and care about their needs. Offering a cup of coffee also makes a person feel relaxed and at ease in a meeting.

You will find that clients are more at ease when their needs have been taken care of. Imagine a situation like this. Your client has just driven to your office through busy traffic to arrive at your office on time for a meeting. When they walk through your door, they are greeted by name and offered their choice of coffee, tea, water or another drink. They will feel welcomed and appreciated and will keep doing business with you.

Consider decor carefully

An important part of any good impression on a client is the appearance of your office. If you have decor that could be seen as offensive or that is too bright then your client might not feel comfortable in your office. It is also important to decorate according to your brand and industry to keep your office relevant for clients and employees alike.

Art that is distracting could be detrimental to business meetings, so be sure to keep your boardroom well decorated. For example, you could cover your walls in a fun wallpaper which reflects your brand or paint a feature wall and display certificates and achievements. Your decor should showcase your professionalism as well as your brand personality, but err on the side of caution with bright colours and “quirky” art.

Give them a warm welcome

You should aim to welcome your clients warmly and uniquely. For example, you could have a board up in the lobby welcoming them by name and company. Or you could have a comfortable seating area with a fun questionnaire about a simple topic, such as “How much do you love coffee?” or “How well do you know our company?”

These tactics will take minutes to complete but will garner an impressive result. If a client feels welcomed, they are likely to want to continue doing business with you.You shouldn’t overdo your efforts but you should put some thought behind your welcoming endeavours. Tell your receptionist who will be arriving on any given day and ask them to greet clients by name as they arrive for a little something extra.

Keep it clean

Your office should always be kept neat, clean, and tidy. And this goes for the kitchen too. If you have a coffee machine and accoutrements, it is important to keep these clean and shiny after every use. This will make a fantastic first impression on your client, as will an office that is kept neat and tidy.

Be sure to ask your staff to avoid leaving overflowing bins near their desks and to take all crockery and cutlery into the kitchen to be washed after lunch times. This should not only be done when a client is coming in but every day to maintain your office’s aesthetic and keep your staff happy in a healthy environment. Hire a professional cleaner to ensure that everything is cleaned and no spaces are forgotten about.

First impressions are long lasting

Making a good first impression on a client is vital to maintaining your relationship with them. Start by offering them the perfectly brewed cup of coffee or tea, and be sure that you get their order right. Ensure that your decor is carefully considered and that it reflects your brand and message correctly. Welcome your clients as warmly and as openly as possible and remember to keep your office neat, clean and tidy. This will show your clients that, not only do you care about them, but you take your work and office seriously.

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Networking

Why Coffee Is The Key To Career Networking

Read on below for some of the reasons why coffee is the key to career networking.

Amy Galbraith

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Coffee has become the fuel of choice for many of us. It helps to perk up our minds and bodies and can help immensely with improving productivity and stamina. But coffee can do more than simply fuel a machine – it can be used for helping to ease conversation when networking. Networking is a vital part of building your career in your industry, and can be useful for when you are looking for a new position in a different company. It can also help to build your skill set and ensure that it is up-to-date with industry trends.

Meeting people over a cup of Nescafé Alegria coffee is a great way to network. A coffee date or meeting is usually a lot less stressful and can be an effective way to understand the person you are meeting. And coffee culture is booming, meaning there are plenty of places to meet up. You might find that the meeting is a successful one, which can cement a relationship with someone who you admire and aspire to be more like. So, read on below for some of the reasons why coffee is the key to career networking.

It can eliminate pressure

Meeting someone for a coffee is more casual than meeting them in the office or at a conference. And while face-to-face networking can put pressure on even the most bubbly of people, a coffee date at a relaxed cafe will allow you to feel less stressed and pressured and can encourage you to be yourself when meeting with a mentor or potential employee.

Coffee is a fantastic bonding tool, allowing people to discover more about one another based on what drink they choose. For example, a cappuccino might show that you are an easy-going and uncomplicated person, whereas a fancy drink (caramel macchiato with a double shot of espresso, anyone?) might show that you are creative but a little highly strung. Take this opportunity to have a relaxed conversation with someone who you admire in your industry.

It does not take too long

There is nothing worse than having a “short meeting” with someone and it ends up running late. But with a coffee date, even if it is a cup of coffee in an office, this is likely not to happen. A well-made cup of coffee does not take too long to make, which means that your networking meeting or chat will not go over the suggested time of 45 minutes.

A coffee meeting should not be seen as an interview, but rather as a chat between colleagues or acquaintances. This should never run too long, as the person who you have invited for the coffee might become bored with the meeting and not pay attention to your queries or suggestions. Half an hour is the perfect amount of time to spend sipping on a delicious cup of coffee and chatting about your respective experience, careers and companies.

It can help to spark conversation

Having a chat over a cup of coffee in the office is commonplace. But it is not only used to help boost your energy levels, it can help to spark interesting can creative conversation. The same can be said of coffee and networking. This humble roasted bean can help to encourage you to speak to people who you admire and want to get to know.

At a networking event or even in the office where you are new, bonding over coffee can encourage conversation and camaraderie. If you are having a “coffee date” interview, be sure to research the person you are meeting to find out more about them and use this information in the conversation. A freshly-made cup of Nescafé Alegria will help to boost your confidence and can help you to carry the conversation, asking questions which lead to a new venture.

You will feel more comfortable

While meeting someone important in your industry should not be taken lightly, networking over a cup of coffee can help you to feel more comfortable than a formal meeting would. This is because you will be able to unwind with a coffee and chat naturally, without the stress of being in a stiff and uncomfortable setting.

Coffee is a drink that many people associate with high energy, but for others, it can allow them to unwind and feel more confident. This makes a coffee date the perfect way to connect with someone and have a successful meeting. You will feel more comfortable and will be able to hold a conversation, allowing you to get your point across without fumbling or feeling nervous. And there is also the added benefit of being able to drink some tasty coffee at the same time.

Wake up and smell the coffee

Career networking in the workplace can also help immensely in improving your position and standing in your office. You will find that meeting over a cup of coffee is one of the best ways to network. It allows you to feel less pressure and be comfortable with whoever you are meeting, no matter their level of experience. The meeting will not take too long and coffee is the perfect conversation starter.

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Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.

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It’s “easy” to start a business and generate an idea you think will make a difference in the world, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple in reality. Entering the start-up world requires more than just the knowledge you’ve gained through your studies or what you’ve read up about online. Success is about putting your business, and yourself, out there and connecting with influential people at events.

If you don’t have a budget to market your business, you need to speak to the right people in order to help grow your business. For introverts, this might sound the worst idea, but if you want to attract influential people in the industry and increase your client base, you need to be your business’ own marketer.

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking:

Build your own network of people

When you start networking, think of it as an opportunity to build your own network of influential individuals in the industry who can assist you when you need it most. Networking shouldn’t be as daunting as you make it out to be. If you believe in your idea and your employees, and you genuinely want to find the right tools to propel your business into the right direction, you need to connect and engage with people who can help you.

In the beginning stages of your startup experience, you should try to attend events to meet with other African start-ups. African tech innovation is advancing, and it’s worth your time to explore the technical space to see how you can leverage technology to succeed. If you have an interest in meeting people who could introduce you to others and vice versa, your business will flourish.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

You are your own superhero

For years, it has been said that people buy from people and not adverts which is 100 percent correct. You are your biggest strength in that, if you believe in yourself and your product or service, you will be able to boost sales drastically. People are convinced by people, which is a huge part of your networking abilities and how people remember your products or services in an impressive way.

If people can see that you believe in your own business, are confident in your abilities and are trying to convince people otherwise, people will take a chance on you and put more effort into supporting you.

Always be strategic about your approach

The more you network, the more you will realise that you need to have a plan in place before you approach anyone or attend any event. A plan is crucial if you want to achieve a particular goal out of a face-to-face interaction. Before you attend an event, meet up with someone outside of the event or even speak with someone over the phone, make a list of the topics you what you want to talk about.

Events are usually jam-packed with people, and if you don’t have a purpose for your interaction, it will turn into a lost opportunity. You cannot leave without speaking to people you were interested in or without the information you need. If people are leaving in a rush, ask them for their contact details and make another plan.

Network both online and offline

If you’re putting yourself out there and attending a marketing or tech conference, also consider the online elements, for instance, LinkedIn, which you could explore. Many people believe in one or the other, but a combined approach is extremely powerful. Once you have met someone, make an effort to look them up online and follow up with a meeting request if you are interested in creating a further relationship. Your networking circle will not be complete if you aren’t making use of both offline and online networking in your community and the industry at large.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Provide more than you take

Don’t be a taker. People try and stay away from these types of people once they know who you are and feel sceptical about the interest you’re showing in them. While you might genuinely be interested in seeking advice on an innocent level, it can quickly give you a bad name if people spread their feelings about your motives. So, in order to avoid this, be willing to give. Of course, you need to limit your “free” offerings once you’ve met with someone new, but keep that opportunity open in the beginning. Show people that you’re willing to offer them information or free trials for their time. When people see that you’re not just taking what you can get your hands on, they will start to give you their attention.

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