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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

Networking

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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Networking

The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule For Successful Networking

If you follow the three parts of this rule carefully, you can learn to network successfully.

Brian Hilliard

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The following excerpt is from Ivan Misner, Ph.D. and Brian Hilliard’s book Networking Like a Pro. Buy it now from Amazon.

Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that saying? Probably enough to know that the way you’re perceived really does affect the business you conduct (or don’t conduct) with other people. This is especially true when it comes to networking and meeting someone for the first time, and this is where the 12 x 12 x 12 rule becomes so important.

Basically, this rule involves three questions:

  1. How do you look from 12 feet away? Do you look the part?
  2. How do you come across from 12 inches away? Does your attitude and body language reflect what they first saw?
  3. What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?

What we’re talking about is how important it is to create the right perception of yourself and your business.

Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. But, most prospects don’t care how much you’ve got going on or how many balls you have in the air. They just want to know if you’re a potential solution to a problem they have, and their initial perception of you goes a long way in making that determination.

The same is true for potential referral partners.

They want to know if they can trust you with their referrals – people (and sometimes clients) with whom they have a good relationship. Do you have your act together so you won’t jeopardise their good name when they refer business to you? Right or wrong, their initial perception of you is going to play a large part in answering that question.

This is precisely what the 12 x 12 x 12 rule is all about. It looks at you from the perspective of other people (prospects or referral partners) and shows you how to optimise their perception. This doesn’t mean manipulating or deceiving them; experienced people can see through that. Nor is it about checking your personality at the door. What it does mean is fine-tuning your networking practices to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Let’s go over the specifics of the 12 x 12 x 12 rule and how you can manage the perception others have of you.

Look the part before going to the event (How do you look from 12 feet away?)

professional-appearanceYou’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t go casual. Instead, consider wearing a good suit or nice outfit. You need to be well rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.

Make sure your body language sends the right message (How do you come across from 12 inches away?)

When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information – trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness — is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid with your arms crossed.

When meeting someone for the first time, a lot can be said about how much your attitude can impact her first impression. Make sure that when you’re talking to others, you have a positive, upbeat attitude.

Another part of the “12 inches” away rule is making sure you know which pocket your business cards are in and having plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organised!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card. So make sure you have some type of system for keeping your cards separate from the cards you receive at the event.

One more thing: Remember to smile when meeting someone for the first time. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard with this and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

Make sure you’re ready to speak (What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?)

When someone asks you what you do, make sure you’re ready with a response, or unique selling proposition (USP), that’s succinct but memorable. A good USP is the offline equivalent of a good post on social media… something that promotes curiosity and engagement. The attention span of the average adult is 20 seconds; a long, drawn-out answer to the question isn’t going to work. Whatever words you choose, make sure your answer is quick and informative without sounding over-rehearsed or contrived.

Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the 12 x 12 x 12 rule in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Why I Never Meet Someone For Coffee

The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

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First off, I need to make clear that I am not against meeting people for coffee or even drinking coffee. My issue is that I’ve learned that the offer to go get coffee usually means that somebody wants something from me. Whether it is time, money or to help them make a connection, an offer to grab a drink almost always has some ulterior motive behind it.

You might think that I flat out don’t want to help others, but the real issue is the other opportunities that I have in front of me. I have a lot on my plate, so dedicating the time to a “quick” coffee meeting does not make much sense.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Say no to getting coffee

Hours spent in the office doing business are not the time to sit back, relax or socialise. I try to be as efficient, effective and statistically successful as possible during work hours (and beyond). The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

I rarely take anyone up on the offer to “do lunch” during work hours. Just consider the amount of time that it takes to get to and from a coffee or lunch meeting, and how much business could be done in that same time.

Then, think about the inefficiencies of utilising that time for things such as small talk, even before you get to the critical business issue.

Have an objective in mind

I have the objective to try and keep every phone call to a maximum of five minutes. When it comes to in-person meetings, I prefer them to take place at my office or overlapping other meetings I have outside the office, which I call “holding court.”

Even then, I try to keep those meetings to 20 minutes long. This allows me to fit in as many meetings or calls as possible. So many people make the excuse that they are “doing business” and then leave the office to do unimportant things, or overlap their meetings around errands.

Make no mistake, I’m not advising against meeting people in person. I’m saying take control of the business opportunity and have them come to you, or meet them somewhere convenient when you are outside of the office.

Related: 5 Ways That Coffee Affects Productivity

No coffee, just grind

The majority of lunch and coffee meetings that take place are nothing but an inefficient use of time. I would suggest not only rejecting such meetings during work hours, but to also stop asking for coffee meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary.

How do you determine whether or not a meeting is necessary? Take a look at the reasons and impacts the meeting can have. If these outweigh the potential drawbacks of an in-person meeting, then it is acceptable to ask. Make sure that you focus on making efficiency a key principle when chasing your objectives.

Stay focused in on critical business issues and you will find that focus will provide you with everything you desire in business and life.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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