In my world it’s quite common for entrepreneurs who are a bit further ahead than the rest of us to put something back in terms of the people following in their trail. This can happen via formal networks (Digital Circle, Irish International Business Network, Global Irish Network, Chambers of Commerce, CBI, etc – we all have plenty of groups we’re members of) or it can be more informal – people you already know or meet along the way or via events that provide access to the Great & the Good (Culturetech in Derry is a recent example of a fabulous event that was bunged full of tech world glitterati as was the EBN Congress event run by NORIBIC in May with illustrious keynote speakers such as Steve Wozniak and Tim Smit).
Being able to ask questions of the people further ahead is mission critical to an entrepreneur (and corporate world managers I guess). Even better is using networking to find yourself a small number of mentors and advisors with whom you can start an ongoing relationship. Having personal access to leaders with proven success is a well known piece of the entrepreneur puzzle and one which significantly improves a startup’s chances of making it to the end of that all important first year.
Yesterday I attended the 3rd Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle. It was hosted by the Taoiseach & the Tanaiste and is a biannual gathering of 250 of Ireland’s most influential & successful people. This year the Tanaiste decided to include some Northern Irish businesses amongst the 100 SME businesses that are invited & that’s how come I was there. It was terrifying. I only knew two people there out of two or three hundred when I arrived.
One of the most frequently used phrases I heard yesterday was “I will help you if I can” – but as an entrepreneur how do you respond to and action that offer in order to get most benefit out of it for your company. I thought about this a lot on the way home last night & decided to write a quick blog. As usual, the list below is not finished or complete so please do add your own tips in the comments section & we’ll all be pleased to read those later.
- Have an elevator pitch and be ready to trot it out anytime & anywhere. Keep it brief or you’ll lose your important audience. Be able to flex it so that you can give a different version dependent on what sort of person you are pitching to and what country they are from – are they a potential door opener, investor, mentor. If you aren’t good on your feet you need to practice this to the point where it just rolls out effortlessly freeing you up to watch their body language & listen & respond to their points/questions. If you can’t do this, don’t put yourself through the pain of going to this sort of event. Instead find someone who can do it for you.
- Don’t be afraid to approach people and always ask for help – when you get to a place where you feel you are comfortable to ask for some support just go ahead and ask. Hardly anyone ever says no. I’ve only been turned down by one person – it’s someone you all know so DM me if you want me to spill the beans – I can’t do it on here! But it was only one person and I’ve asked hundreds for help.
- Don’t be afraid to be ambitious – in my group yesterday someone asked if a couple of the US heavy hitters could help her secure Hillary Clinton as a keynote speaker for her conference next year. Time will tell on that one!
- Before you ask, be very clear about what it is that you want them to do for you. I have a couple of “open” offers right now where people have offered to help me with “something” – but I don’t yet know what I can best use that offer for. Help could be making an intro to someone to joining your board or investing in your company – and anything on the spectrum in between.
- Never expect someone like this to do any heavy lifting or grunt work for you, that’s your job. What I mean by that is you have to do the homework and present the information to them so that all they do is give you an opinion or a steer – don’t expect they will do your market research for you. If for example you were looking for a channel partner in an overseas territory, research who the players are, what their characteristics and pros/cons for you are & then ask for some advice in which 3 out of the 10 in existence are best for your company to approach.
- Be 100% serious when you execute on whatever it is you’ve asked the person to do. If someone opens a door for you at your request then do your homework & don’t screw up the sales pitch when you get there. It’s not just your own chips you’re using – it’s the chips of everyone similar to you that’s following on behind you. I heard one US mentor describe this yesterday as “political capital”. I’ve also heard it called “reputational capital”. What does that mean? – I make an intro for you, you show up half prepped or don’t turn up, I’m now in a much worse place with the contact I’ve sent you to. No pressure but be careful what you wish for and only engage if you know you are ready.
- Some access is for a one-off offer & some might lead to an ongoing relationship – be careful to work out which it is early doors.
- Related to the above point, if it’s the start of an ongoing relationship you probably need to meet a few times before both parties are comfortable. The first time you meet just establishes that you like each other & possibly have a common interest. You now need to get to know each other a bit better. As the “recipient”, you need to do the running to make sure the relationship develops.
- When you have a new advisor in your circle, don’t just use the red phone and ring them when you need a decision made or have a crisis. You’ll get far more out of the relationship if you keep them up to speed with what you’re doing & how things are going as you go along. Again, it’s up to you to find a way to do that & put the work in to make it happen. These guys are never going to be chasing you.
- Finally – when you’re at this sort of event, be brave and approach strangers and start up a conversation. Everyone is there because of one or more vested interests of their own and they want to talk to you. Never forget that people prefer to do business with people they like so at initial brief meetings like these be pleasant, don’t argue and regard it as a way of “interviewing” and filtering those that you will follow up and keep in touch with. I came away yesterday with a handbag stuffed full of business cards and today will be spent following up with the people I met.
A few weeks ago at Culturetech festival in Derry I was lucky enough to meet & chat with Wilson Kriegel (former COO of OMGPOP, creators of Draw Something) and he said something that has stayed with me. You start forming relationships the day you are born; growing and nurturing those relationships is key to the success of an entrepreneur. Yep – at the end of the day business is all about people – nothing else really matters.
If you’re just getting started with networking, here’s a link to an earlier blog I wrote a couple of years back https://kickingassets.co.uk/so-you-want-to-network/