Jul 012017
 
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Networking for Entrepreneurs: Here’s How to Get Powerful Results

By Lynne Beverly Strang

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Like or not, that old axiom is still true.

Networking is critical for entrepreneurs. Whether a startup obtains certain product lines, negotiates affordable supplier rates, recruits qualified employees, bids on certain projects, reaches key markets – or achieves just about any goal – often depends upon its relationships.

If you dread the cocktail scene and its superficiality, take heart. There is a better way to cultivate new connections that can help you grow your business.

Sometimes networking for entrepreneurs produces disappointing results because of a misguided mindset. All too often, people go to an event wondering, “What’s in it for me?”  The better question to ask is “How can I help others?”

“Our job, as networkers, is to pay attention to the person in front of us – and to help that person find the people they’re looking for,” says Basile Lemba, founder of the Fairfax Networking Breakfast Club near Washington, D.C. Lemba also teaches a class on networking basics that includes the concept of “Interesting vs. Interested” (Don’t worry about whether you’re interesting. Instead, be interested in others).

One long-time advocate of the pay-it-forward approach is Bob Littell, the Atlanta-based creator of “NetWeaving.”  Let’s say you have two contacts who you think would benefit from meeting each other. As a “NetWeaver,” you provide an introduction, help the two parties exchange bios and arrange to meet in person.

When they get together, a new partnership forms, or they find other ways to help each other. Later, they follow up with you to let you know how the meeting went. As Littell explains on his website, the philosophy behind NetWeaving is “give first in order to receive.”

How do you benefit from connecting others?  For one thing, there’s the gratification that comes from facilitating a new business partnership that leads to exciting – and sometimes life changing – results.

The people you connect may become valued members of your network who provide information or advice you need to achieve strategic objectives. And who knows – they might return the favor and provide a pivotal connection for you one day.

In addition to a selfless approach, consider these networking-for-entrepreneurs tips:

Follow up. If you tell a contact you’ll do something, do it. This is the most important part of networking for entrepreneurs. It’s also where people usually drop the ball.

Be patient. It takes time to build trust and form long-lasting relationships. Eighty percent of sales happen after the fourth follow-up, notes Lemba.

Mix it up. Use a combination of in-person and social media outreach to build your network. LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network on the Internet, gives you access to groups of professionals in your field (or one you aspire to join).

Volunteer. It’s a great way to meet civic-oriented business leaders while giving back to your community.

Think holistically.  A common mistake, says Lemba, is to view networking as an isolated activity that takes place at separate business events. Ideally, connecting and helping others should be a constant, ongoing process and a way of life.

Stay in touch. Call or email your contacts occasionally just to see how they’re doing. According to a recent LinkedIn global survey, less than half (48%) of professionals say they keep in touch with their network when things are going well in their career.

Keep at it.  Like most other skills, networking for entrepreneurs requires regular practice. Dedicate time each week towards maintaining and adding relationships.

Not every networking event yields a sale or new contract. But when your primary objective is learning about others and helping them succeed, good karma results. What goes around, comes around.

 

Lynne Beverly Strang (www.lynnebeverlystrang.com) is a freelance writer and the author of “Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.” Her email address is lbstrang@gmail.com

 

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Oct 132011
 
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Entrepreneurship can be lonely

Being An Entrepreneur Can Be Lonely

As much as I love being an entrepreneur, it can be a lonely endeavor.  My time as an entrepreneur, since I was a young kid, and my time working with entrepreneurs over the course of my career, have taught me that being the one in charge can make you feel very alone.  Sometimes it feels like you’re on an island.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur in a one-person company or a CEO in a larger company, if you are the final decision maker, it’s easy to feel like it’s you against the world.

Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news on this.  First, the bad news:  it’s not likely to change.  If you’re the person upon whose shoulders rests final decision making authority, it’s virtually impossible not to feel sometimes like all the pressure is on you and you’re on “an island”.  Now, the good news:  there are tons of other entrepreneurs and CEO types out there who feel exactly the same way!  So, while it’s often unavoidable that you will feel alone in your role at your own company, there are plenty of other people who are in exactly the same boat.  That’s good news, because if you can find ways to link up with them, you can share your war stories, feel less alone, and learn from and support one another!

Let’s talk about some ways of linking up with other entrepreneurs and CEO types.  Here’s a quick list.  It’s not meant to be all-inclusive, but I hope it will give you some ideas.  The options range from free and not time-intensive, to relatively costly and much more time-consuming.  The options typically are not mutually-exclusive, so select whichever ones you like and give them a try.  Depending on a variety of factors, including your personality, your schedule and your objectives, certain options will be more appealing to you than others.

Here are some ways to link up with and interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs, locally and online:

Social Media

  • Twitter:  Search on hashtags, such as #smallbiz #startup #entrepreneur #sme #ceo and others that are relevant to the persons with whom you’d like to interact.  Send out your own tweets and others will react to you as well.  Also, look for tweet “chats” that occur periodically on particular subjects.  It’s true that Twitter is only 140 characters and you can’t say much in a tweet, but you can include a URL link and you can use the brief Twitter interaction as a bridge to further communication via phone, email or other media.
  • Facebook:  I used to view Facebook as a huge “time sink” and to a certain extent, I still do.  It has an enormous number of users though, and thus, cannot be ignored.  Also, with the advent of Pages and with the exceptional utility of Groups, it can be a great tool.  Just be sure to stay focused on your objectives, in this case, interacting with other entrepreneurs and CEOs and don’t get sucked into a lot of the “shiny object,” time wasting activities that such a platform also offers.
  • LinkedIn:  This is the social network that tends to have a very high percentage of business people and professionals.  Like the others, it also has groups, so it can be a great place to interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs.  It can also be extremely useful for finding and maintaining contact with former colleagues and acquaintances, which represents another way to combat the loneliness of entrepreneurship.
  • Other networks:  There are a ton of other social networks and platforms!  I try to stick to a short list though, because otherwise you could end up spending far too much time on these sites and activities.  I encourage you to explore others, then pick a few that give you the most bang for your buck, and for your time.

Local Networking Groups

  • This is an area where, again, you could end up spending way too much time, without a huge amount of benefit.  There’s the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and dozens more.  The best idea here is to experiment with a few groups, but don’t commit to any until you understand what the investment of time and other resources is, weighed against the benefits you are receiving.  In this article, we are talking about trying to overcome the loneliness of being an entrepreneur or CEO.  Sometimes these groups can help with that, but many times they don’t attract the caliber of people you’re looking for; it really depends on the particular group and its composition in your location.  If you don’t find a local group that serves your needs, then start one!  Find other entrepreneurs and CEOs of a caliber that matches what you’re looking for, and get together with them on a regular basis to exchange war stories and lessons.  It doesn’t have to be formal.  Remember, you’re not looking for rewards or recognition from such a group; you’re looking for people who can understand the unique issues and situation you face, who can interact with you and offer advice, in a symbiotic relationship.

Mastermind Groups

  • “Mastermind” groups are typically informal alliances among entrepreneurs with similar interests, often in the same or similar industries.  In reality, such groups have been around for a long time, but only recently has the name “mastermind” caught on.  Their purpose tends to be similar to that of the formal peer groups you will read about in the next section.  The idea is to get a bunch of very capable entrepreneurs together regularly, usually by phone in the case of masterminds, and work through current and reoccurring issues that confront the group members.  It boils down to peer support and is often slanted a bit more toward the technical side of your particular industry, but in reality, over time relationships build and as bonds and shared experiences grow, it helps to combat entrepreneur and CEO loneliness issues as well.

Formal Peer Groups

  • There are CEO groups out there, such as Vistage (http://www.vistage.com), which for a fee will connect you with other CEOs in similar circumstances, so you can have formal interactions to support one another and share ideas on solving specific problems.  Such organizations are not inexpensive, however they can be excellent tools for getting you the answers you need, from credible sources, in a very efficient manner.  The formal interactions of Vistage members usual take place in-person and thus are typically relatively local in nature, but they have recently launched a new service called Vistage Connect (http://www.vistageconnect.com), which has more of an online interaction focus.  My understanding is that the service is less costly and also offers the opportunity to interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs from around the world, not just those in your geography.

So there you have a few options for seeking out other entrepreneurs and CEOs with whom you can interact in an effort to not feel as lonely, particularly when you’re faced with tough decisions that you do not feel like you can share with others at your company.  This way, you still may feel like you’re on an island at times, but at least now there will be other entrepreneurs and CEOs there with you!

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

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