The Power of Networks

Hollywood has etched the image of the stereotypical successful businessperson in our minds. They are older persons with a top formal educational background who worked up the business totem pole. They are also dressed with the designer suits being served by subservient assistants who cater to their every need. However, though in some circles the designer suit wearing bosses may be the reality such a depiction may not be a true reflection of the everyday world. Although, the average business owner does not fit the fictitious stereotype presented in movies, it is true that most entrepreneurs of yesteryear were older. Today however, there has been a gradual shift in the trend for business ownership to less experienced, younger entrepreneurs.  Some young businesspersons even under the age of twenty who are fashionably attired with torn jeans and tiny tees have been known to own millions by starting and growing successful business ventures. The decrease in the age range and the increase in the number of successful start-ups can be attributed to many factors. However, one of the most critical reasons for the change and business growth is the leveling of the playing field through the formulation of strong, useful networks. Networking establishes jointly beneficial connections with other business people and current and potential clients. Sometimes just knowing someone may be the vital piece of the puzzle that is needed to make the entire picture a reality. Proper networking has the potential to increase sales through referrals, and it opens up avenues for advice, assistance, information sharing, and positive criticism.

While for some people forming networks come easily, others have a difficult time. However, in the current business climate, having robust networks should be a top priority, so their importance needs to be emphasized.  The qualities that should be paramount in the formulation of proper networks are trustworthiness, ambition, the willingness to accept criticism, a clear vision, openness to necessary change, and the willingness to grow. Additionally, having access to different types of networks can help an aspiring entrepreneur move from an idea to a successful business launch. The types of people persons should aim to have their networks vary widely namely:

  1. Influencers- These are people who can sway and affect others people’s perceptions. Having one or two influencers in your circle can help tremendously when growing your network.
  2. Experts- These are the people who are consulted for advice and wisdom. They are people who should be your mentors and business coaches.
  3. Creators- These are innovative, industrious people who challenge themselves by formulating and working on new ideas, pushing the boundaries, or navigating unchartered territory with their way of thinking.
  4. Links- These the people are who generally act as intermediaries. They are able to provide the connection between or among people since they seem to know everyone. Having links is an integral part of networks because they have the ability to connect people with other key players.

Sometimes current and aspiring business owners do not have a wide network or worse yet none at all especially when their businesses are in the embryonic stages. However, in those unfortunate cases, entrepreneurs need not worry because various kinds of networks that they can access exist online. In times past, physically knowing someone was essential, but with the advent of the internet and the popularity of social media, a more informal and impersonal form of networking is helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams. The ability to utilize the available technology to build networks is also a suitable tool, and it is discussed further below.  

Network of Mentors

Having a mentor can make a huge difference for your business. They would have already experienced and most likely conquered the process that you are faced with. Consequently, they can be useful since they could provide helpful advice or other forms of assistance to navigate the choppy waters or to avoid potential pitfalls that they may have faced during their ascension in the business world. Many programs, both governmental and otherwise that provide businesspersons with a mentor exist. However, an easy way for entrepreneurs to have access to a network of mentors was introduced by Mercy Corp, and it is called MicroMentor. MicroMentor is a free, easy-to-use social network that allows entrepreneurs and volunteer business mentors to connect so they can solve problems and build businesses together. It can be found here at http://www.micromentor.org/.

Network of Domain Experts

Domain experts also referred to as subject matter experts are people who are authorities in a particular topic or area. It sometimes seems as if these are the most difficult people to get into your network; however, this is not really the case. The best way to connect and have access to a network of domain experts is through micro blogs such as twitter. You can connect with subject matter experts there, follow their profiles, receive valuable information, and communicate with them. Moreover, the easiest way to have direct access to these people however is through consultations organized for your area from websites such as meetup.com. People who are experts in a certain areas often get together at least monthly through events organized on meetup.com. You can join meetup and attend these events and connect with people.

Network of Beta Customers

When launching a business, it is sometimes difficult to reach out to a group of beta testers or beta customers who can give feedback before you undertake an official business launch. However, the internet has made this process easier with the advent of social media networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook among others. Some specific resources for getting beta testers are as follows:

Betali.st- Betali will list your start-up on its platform for free. It has an audience made up of start-up founders, tech consumers, and investor, and on any given day, there are 2-10 start-ups listed.

Quora- Quora started off as an exclusive socialization spot where the inner circle of Silicon Valley could hang out and talk about tech start-ups and investment. As time progressed, it has grown to a Q&A site for all topics; however, its core tech start-up community is still extremely strong.

Slideshare- You may have a presentation about your business, but you do not have an audience to deliver it to. The website www.slideshare.net helps to eradicate such an issue. Upload your presentation to slideshare with plenty tags and descriptions to increase visibility, and the site would provide an awesome option for viewing. Other quality content that you may have created for your business can also be shared on slideshare which would allow you to meet people and get your first few beta customers.

Co-founders and Employees

Finding employees and having access to a network of people to make up the staff in your business is somewhat simple and may be the easiest task to fulfill as a start-up. Sites such as indeed.com and monster.com allow you to put up job postings announcing positions that may be open in your business. The people whose qualifications match what you’re looking for will reach out to you and you take it from there.

Unfortunately, finding potential co-founders are generally not as straightforward.  However, it is not too difficult to have access to a network of these people. One of the best and possibly easiest ways is through the Co-Founders Lap platform found at https://www.cofounderslab.com/. The site allows you the opportunity to create a posting indicating your desire for co-founders and the requirements they would need to fulfill. Once persons are interested or can offer what you want, they would respond.

Helpful Resources

Other resources such as lawyers, HR experts, accountants, and others are best found when they are contacted directly. However, many other effective means to get access to professionals exist. They can be contacted through meetup.com, they can be met through some programs that non-profit organizations and governmental agencies offer, and as mentioned above, mentors can help provide the link to some expert personnel.

Having access to a network can make the difference for your business, and while a lot of the ways to build your network mentioned above are online, one of the most effect ways to build your network is always to meet people. We are social beings so few things can subvert the benefits of effective, well communicated one on one interaction. Therefore, ensure that you have a strong personal brand, be able to concisely but clearly explain your business in few words, and you will be well on your way to building a powerful network that can help you grow your business exponentially.