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.
Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event
Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- How do you look from 12 feet away? Do you look the part?
- How do you come across from 12 inches away? Does your attitude and body language reflect what they first saw?
- 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.
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?)
You’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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