Entrepreneurs face big challenges that need a lot of experience, tons of energy, and many sleepless nights. Be it marketing the business, securing enough capital, or finding the right people, these are only the tip of the iceberg. As an entrepreneur, you may be passionate, committed, and driven, yet, the business may still fail. Why? Many things may cause a business failure. But, there is one that even veteran business leaders fall for: starting, running and maintaining a business while forgetting its purpose.
Peter Drucker said it best: “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” If you have a customer, you have a business, if you don’t, you have a hobby. The biggest challenge with “creating and keeping a customer” is that you may see it as a marketing or customer care function. It is not. It is the purpose of business, and marketing is the process through which this purpose comes to life in every aspect of the business. Unfortunately, with the increased use of technology and automation, and the rise of social media networks, we have lost touch with some fundamentals. One widely misunderstood and poorly practiced fundamental is networking. You will not be alone if you think of it as compiling a huge database of contacts. Some see it as the opportunity to sell to many people at once. And many still perceive it as nothing more than schmoozing and boozing, a way to be seen and socialize; a waste of time I hear you say.
Dr. Ivan Misner, the father of modern networking, gives a newer and truer definition of networking: “The process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.”
There is no one practice, tactic, or strategy that can impact:
1. Growth Increase your business.
2. Learning Enhance your knowledge.
3. Reach Expand your sphere of influence.
4. Value Serve the community.
That is why networking can make the difference between the success and failure of a business. So how can you use networking to your advantage as an entrepreneur? Here are some ideas on how networking can help you solve some of the top business challenges you may face today or in the future.
Be present at gatherings and social functions with friends and family, and in community activities. Get to know the people who are already in your sphere of relations, see where you can help and add value. These people will be the ones you rely on for support when you face the challenge of ditching your steady job. Some will have the skills to help you write your business plan, give expert advice, and help you develop your elevator pitch. Ask and listen, you may find people in your network with access to valuable knowledge and market insight.
We are social beings, driven by social influence and pressure. Advertising works, but a recommendation from a friend is 200 times more powerful, 200 times more effective. If you have developed your relationships with your network, they will jump at the opportunity to help you. A recommendation from a friend is paramount when you are marketing a product or service that’s ahead of its time. Your friends will not recommend your product or service if they are not convinced. Ask for their feedback, so you can build a product that is viral – people want to tell their friends about it. This becomes even more amplified with the use of social media. Your friends reach and influence extends yours. Ask them to share their experience with their friends, and even with the local radio station or newspaper. Create videos of them using the product or service and build on their perspective to get fresh ideas for content. Even if you start with 10 people who believe in you, you can reach 5100 people through Facebook!
You never know how deep the network of the people around you is. Instead of waiting for you to pitch in the next startup weekend, your ideal investor might be a phone-call away. Not only will you have the chance to get financing, you will also get proper feedback and help if you don’t make the cut. A person whom you meet through a recommendation is more likely to cares about you and be more interested to help. If you have missed the mark, they will most likely tell you how to make it right. Put simply they will give you another chance, something you might not get through the usual channels.
One of the challenges of running a business is managing suppliers and partners. Having a strong network of people can help you find suppliers and partners you can trust, that cause you less stress and come with great added value.
Internal networking with your people is crucial. By cultivating relationships with your team, you will get to know them better and learn how to manage them better as a result. We always choose to work with people we know, like, and trust. Through networking, people develop an affinity for each other, and they are more likely to want to work with each other, even if the pay is less. A network of positive and powerful relationships, built on open and honest communication, becomes a centre of influence in an organization. It shapes the culture and drives the organization towards excellence.
Finally, your network is the ideal starting place to get the word out and to get recommended clients. Clients who come through recommendations are the most valuable. They are more likely to buy, less likely to be price sensitive, more likely to return and recommend other people too. As an entrepreneur, networking and building relationships is probably one of the most important activity you can engage in. Do it with passion to develop and cultivate meaningful relationships. Do it with an unwavering drive to add real value. And always remember to do business with people you know, like and trust.