Build your network and you will build your business.
This might end up being one of the shortest posts I’ve ever written on this blog, but I just needed to get it out there.
A couple of years ago I ran an event, I invited someone to share her experiences about how she got to where she was in her business. She basically said, she networked her way into her position.
After one conversation at a meet-up, then a connection to an opportunity, she was swimming in a £120K fund.
Afterwards, I was got feedback from the attendees. Some of whom resolved to find great networking opportunities, but the majority were still in the dark, asking why I invited someone who basically achieved success via nepotism onto the platform.
This was my answer.
“Nepotism is a skill. You need to mastered it if you’re going to succeed.”
As a leader, you need to know your strengths. You need to figure out exactly what the value of your network is and then strategically place yourself in situations where you will meet and socialise with people who can help you get a leg up in whatever industry you’re trying to make a name for yourself in.
When I was much younger, I got the opportunity to see my older brother pave the way for me in terms of what it means to search for a job.
He wanted to be an investment banker. We had no direct connections in the field, so you know what he did, besides applying for internships like everyone else? He figured out the café’s most bankers would go to for lunch based on their geographical proximity to the banks.
He spent his entire summer dressing up for work and hanging out in those spaces. He came out of that summer with a network of Bankers that have been invaluable to his career.
You need to know where you’re lacking. You need to head out to all the different spaces that you know all the right people are going to be and you need to network; that means actually work to become friends with them.
Get to a point where they call you because they want you to know about the opportunities are available at their place of work, what funds are lining up, what grants they think you can apply for.
Did you know that most contracts in the work place never actually get listed because people make internal recommendations?
So the thing you desperately want to get, and you’re constantly checking on the newsletter and mailing list for, is actually never going to come your way unless you've networked well enough to know someone who is going to give you a leg up from the inside.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a TV interview spot on one of the more popular TV shows in Nigeria, because they wanted to talk about youth unemployment and entrepreneurship – which is the stuff I do behind the scenes; working with government agencies and large charities to bridge the youth unemployment gap in African countries. It was a great opportunity and that’s actually what got me thinking about this stuff.
My Dad knows someone who knows someone, they were talking about the work I do, I got connected in and a few days later, I was on TV.
I didn’t hustle for it, but I did create the platform, and gain the expertise that made that me a fit for what they were looking for. That’s the important thing to note when it comes to nepotism/networking connections. If you don’t have the goods to back it up, you’re not going to go very far.
When I got to set, I found out that one of the other speakers was the employee of the show’s host and the daughter of the producer of the show. She also happens to be a talented entrepreneur that perfectly captures the demographic the show is shooting for.
Think about the people that are casting things like that for a second. They have a ridiculous amount of work to do, so they're going to go for what they know.
They’re going to do their best to scour their network first. If there isn’t anyone in their direct network, then they’ll put in the extra effort to find people in their extended network (which is how I got involved).
This post is neither a defence of myself, nor is it an exposition of the station’s casting protocol. Because that’s how everything works, literally everywhere.
When I advocate for events, networking and collaboration, I’m asking you to get to know the people around you.
I’m asking you to know and memorise your mission and vision in short sentences so that you can introduce yourself effectively in every situation and give them the impression that you know what you’re talking about.
In every networking situation, you’re working hard for the mental bookmark on the lower end and the lasting friendship on the higher end.
On the lower end, you just need them to be curious about you, have confidence in you and have your contact information. Because when you achieve all of that, if anything comes up in the future and they can’t find someone in their immediate circle to fill in, they’ll remember you.
On the higher end, you’re trying to pull people into your community of highly interested people. You’re looking for Startup friends. Individuals that are on a similar journey as you (in the same field, even if their not entrepreneurs). You want them to buy into the vision and believe in the mission so that they will advocate for you in every situation that could potentially benefit you.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote down a brief plan for a blog series I’m floating called “Broke Building”.
Essentially the point of it is to help you figure out how you can get things for free or next to nothing, from free trials to whatever falls into the category of, “I want to spend little, to no money” which is what you should be aiming for in the first couple of years of your business.
One of the key things, when it comes to broke building, is this – take advantage of the experts in your network. Above is all about how you get those experts in your network, now you need to think about how you get them to give you the advice you need to build a healthy, scalable and sustainable business.
I’m a business coach, and most of my friends are entrepreneurs. I can’t tell you how many free hours of coaching I’ve given my friends just because, if I see something I say something.
Your expert friends are great at letting you know when someone is charging you too much, when your website looks really bad, based on their professional experience and so on.
If you have a good friend and you ask your good friend for an opinion on something you’ve created, it is not exploitation.
If you’re asking them to do stuff for you from conception to fruition for free, then please don’t – unless you can create a truly mutually beneficial package that you both agree to. PSA over.
When you've built up the right network of people with the connections that can help you build your business, then you’ll get access to events and opportunities that you would not otherwise have known about.
When you have key goals for your business, share them with your Startup friends. Ask them for their opinion. Bring them on the journey of everything you’re building and doing. Actively ask them to keep you in mind when things come up in their workplace that could benefit your business.
That’s how you open doors for your business.
That’s how you keep moving forward in an entrepreneurship ecosystem that has a lot of people in it that are working on businesses that are similar to your own.
Actively seeking connections with people that could open doors for you is a skill that you should do everything you can to build and master.
Flattery usually works.
That’s all folks.
Thanks for reading,
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