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Extend Your Network Through Higher Learning

Networking is widely regarded as a key to success in business. Take advantage of the learning environment to get to know more people.

Monique Verduyn

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Signing up for an MBA or taking a course in project management, finance, leadership development or another business-related area of interest is one of the best ways to grow your business and personal networks.

In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says he learnt that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more than you get. If you do something to make someone else more successful, he says, they’re more likely to value your relationship with them, and the more relationships you have with value in them, the more valuable you become, not only to yourself, but to employers, customers, partners and so on.

Become a Networking Whizz

Our society has become very good at asking: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Most networkers look for others to pass them referrals, but successful networkers are always looking to help others first.

Don’t keep score, Ferrazzi advises. If someone calls you up and asks for a favour that you can easily accomplish, do it and don’t look back. If you are going to take the time to connect with somebody, you should be willing to try to make that person successful. If they succeed, you succeed. He also makes the point that networking is largely useless unless you have goals.

Networking experts note that you should begin reaching out to others and building your network of contacts before you need anything from them. Don’t try to suddenly build a network when your business is about to close down — it simply won’t work.

Here are some simple ways to start building a network that’s meaningful:

  • Join community groups that interest you
  • Take leadership positions in hobby or business groups that interest you
  • Enrol in a class on a topic of interest
  • Become part of business groups in
    your field
  • Join an entrepreneurial network

Often business owners go to an event to network and end up making the mistake of selling. They walk in with the mindset of a hunter instead of a farmer. Networking is about cultivating business relationships, not gaining customers. If business owners walk into a networking event thinking ’look at all of these potential customers‘, they’ll never receive referrals. Ferrazzi calls that ‘being a networking jerk’.

Networking and Higher Learning

Higher learning institutions like the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) host business and social functions to create a climate for discussion and interaction. Attendees are brought together by the desire to build business relationships, gain further understanding of the fast-paced business environment and share best practices of innovation and leadership.

Community website MBAconnect.net is for MBA alumni, current students and faculty from all the business schools in South Africa. MBAconnect facilitates networking, events, job opportunities, knowledge-sharing and more. Members can interact with other MBA students and alumni, market their services, build their brand, find job opportunities, and share ideas and challenges.

Connecting Online

Sam Paddock, MD of GetSmarter, an online education company that works with universities and industry experts to present courses throughout South Africa, says people learn best in strong communities. GetSmarter strongly promotes communication between students. “By requiring our students to interact on our discussion forums, we encourage them to build relationships with their fellow students. As the community becomes stronger, so too does the students’ engagement with their learning materials. Paddock says this is particularly important in distance learning programmes. “Motivation and engagement in distance learning is inherently challenging. By creating a strong community, our students become more engaged in their learning activities.

“We have been able to achieve phenomenal engagement on our forums. Some of our courses have over 6 000 discussion forum postings from 120 students in a 10-week period.”

Paddock says networking online is simple. “Just start writing. It’s the only way people will discover your interests and begin to engage with you. Browse through your fellow students’ profiles and start conversations with people who have something in common with you. It could be that you live in the same area or that you share a common interest. People are most open to interacting with you when they are aware of some common ground.”

Keeping in Touch

Once you have a connection with someone, it’s important to get their contact information. As you talk to people, keep track of their names, titles, emails, phone numbers, organisations, meeting dates, and key points of information and advice. You’ll need this later when you are no longer studying with them but still want to maintain a good relationship. Remember, these are the people who may be able to pave the way for you in future when you need a recommendation or an introduction.

One of Ferrazzi’s central ideas — from which his book takes its title — is that a meal provides an excellent opportunity to connect with someone. If you’re eating alone, he says, you’re missing out. He suggests mixing and matching by inviting multiple people to eat with you from different parts of your social network, which can help build new connections and bring hidden ones to the forefront. This is a particularly attractive option for people who are studying further as campuses provide the perfect environment for socialising.

Because networking requires you to socialise, make yourself interesting. No one wants to spend time with a boring person. Beyond keeping up with current events and having a point of view on current issues, Ferrazzi suggests asking seemingly stupid questions, always being open to learning something new and trying new things, and taking time out for holidays and other activities that grow your mind.

Avoid being a networking jerk

Here are Keith Ferrazzi’s six rules for making sure you network well:

  1. Don’t schmooze. Have something to say, say it with meaning, and focus on establishing a few good connections than spending your time surfing the room.
  2. Don’t rely on gossip. It paints a picture of untrustworthiness.
  3. Be willing to give something away. Think of bloggers who give away content to their readers freely.
  4. Don’t treat those under you poorly. Ever.
  5. Be transparent. If you want to meet someone and are happy to meet them, say so.
  6. Don’t be too efficient. Make genuine, individual connections. If you’re going to take the time to touch base with a contact, write to that person individually, don’t just include them on a big ol’ email to hundreds of people at once that starts off with “Dear friend!”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

Ongoing Learning

15 Of The Best And Most Unusual Online Courses For Entrepreneurs

Improve your outlook, boost your marketability and get a leg up on trends with these digital lesson sessions.

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Real-world experience is the world’s best teacher, but there’s a wealth of knowledge online to help teach ourselves what we don’t have the opportunity to learn from a mentor or navigating life itself. With the help of online courses, we can apply some structured guidance to how we approach our interpersonal interactions, entrepreneurial pursuits and even the way we think. These hyper-focused, organised lesson plans can help us hit refresh and streamline our paths to success.

The following list of online courses covers a range of subjects, some but not all of which have a direct tie to running a business. From AI to VR to happiness to time management, entrepreneurs need to master a wide range of skills.

Most of the courses below come at an cost (often low), though some offer free temporary access to videos and other materials. Read on for an overview of 15 of the best courses out there for entrepreneurs who are lifelong learners.

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Ongoing Learning

6 Free Courses That Can Help You Become A Successful Entrepreneur

Outlined below are some of these courses you can take that will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur.

Amy Galbraith

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Becoming a successful entrepreneur is something that takes a lot of hard work and requires unique skills. However, it can be difficult to achieve this if you are unsure of where to start in building your career as an entrepreneur. You should look into taking courses from skills development companies that can help to develop your entrepreneurial skills and other qualities.

Outlined below are some of these courses you can take that will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur.

  1. Finance and accounting
  2. Business management
  3. Marketing
  4. Business writing
  5. Time management
  6. IT courses
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Ongoing Learning

Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.

Allon Raiz

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I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.

The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.

I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.

All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.

So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?

1. Opens your mind to new concepts

We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.

2. Reinforces old concepts

We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.

Related: Why You Should Be Reading More Fiction And Watching Less News

3. Apply what works for you right now

The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.

4. Cheap learning curve

It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.

5. Great way to connect

Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.

Pulling it all together

Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.

“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”

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