Create a Network
Nurturing and cultivating contacts is like growing a tree – if it is done successfully, the branches keep spreading and fruits keep falling.
Opening Case Study:
The Social Network Entrepreneur: Mark Zuckerberg
Born in 1984, Zuckerberg was interested in computers from an early age and could write software code before he was 12 years old. At high school he wrote a program he called ‘ZuckNet’, which allowed all the computers between the family home and his father’s dental office to communicate by ‘pinging’ each other. His next venture, which caught the attention of both Microsoft and AOL, was a music player that used artificial intelligence to learn the user’s listening habits. While studying computer science and psychology at Harvard University, Zuckerberg, aged 19, began working on a program which would allow students to contact one another via an online website. At first called ‘The Facebook’, the site launched from his dorm room on February 15 2004. Within two weeks, more than half of Harvard’s students had signed up for the service, and Zuckerberg, with the help of his roommate, opened it up to universities across the United States and Canada. In June of that year, after an influx of investment, he dropped out of Harvard and moved to Palo Alto in California to devote all his time and energy to the skyrocketing social network site. In September 2005, the high school version of Facebook was launched and by the following year anyone with a valid email address was allowed to access it. At 27, Zuckerberg has already achieved what many would be more than satisfied with in a lifetime in little over a quarter of a century. But the regular improvements and changes he makes to the website has succeeded where others failed (Orkut, Hifive) i.e.connecting the world almost seamlessly. Such is the case that today nothing is complete without associating one with Facebook. Zuckerberg has not even reached his 30th birthday and it is the only early days of his success story. It looks as years from now his biography will be looked upon as a defining moment in social networking and entrepreneurship history.
Majority of businesses and entrepreneurs are acquainted with the benefits of developing their knowledge and understanding of the market they work in. Networking with other businesses in his domain can allow an entrepreneur share experiences and ideas with one another, plus make some important contacts with prospective clients or partners. For small and start-up ventures in particular, networking can offer a lifeline of support and extensive business development, by providing that much needed backing in the early days. Meeting with like-minded entrepreneurs can be a chief source of information and support as it permits an entrepreneur to evaluate and converse on a broad variety of common issues, from legal and regulatory developments, to employment matters, supplier contacts and customer services.
Networking is also a great way to boost an entrepreneur’s business’ reputation and generate new contacts. By becoming a well-known and habitual networker, an entrepreneur can drive his business onto the radar of other companies and industry figures. This will permit an entrepreneur to build mutually beneficial associations not only with other ventures in his domain, but also with suppliers or potential customers, which in turn will aid to broaden the scope of his market. Global exhibitions and conferences can facilitate him to establish overseas partnerships.
There are a whole host of varied networking groups available today for businesses in every sector and each geographical location. Online networking has also evolved in last couple of years, with websites such as LinkedIn and Twitter being primary in the field of social networking. They are a fabulous means of making new contacts and staying in touch with the existing ones, as well as getting involved with customers instantaneously, which can do wonders for an entrepreneur’s business’ reputation. The extent to which all techniques of networking, both events-based and online, can benefit an entrepreneur depends on the events and networks he participates in and how actively he becomes involved.
The Etiquette of Networking
Every entrepreneur can profit from networking when he launches his new business. Acquiring the needed startup funds as well as finding potential customers for the business greatly depends upon the entrepreneurs’ networking skill. Networking goes ahead of simply meeting people and exchanging business cards with them. It is the knack of building relations and establishing firm trust between both parties concerned so that each can gain from one another’s strengths. The following guidelines will permit the entrepreneur to understand the etiquette of meeting people and how to successfully create contacts and trade ideas for networking.
1. Always look, act, and converse professionally
Appearance and mannerisms are preliminary constituents that people mostly rely on when judging an individual. Therefore, it is of prime importance that entrepreneurs create a positive, lasting impression on those whom he makes contact with. Entrepreneurs are supposed to appear clean and respectable as well as carry out their conversations in a sophisticated fashion so that others will take them seriously. The use of jargons should also be shunned by the entrepreneur when networking because the problem with jargons is that not everybody may comprehend it. Additionally, some people may regard it as rather offensive.
Well-dressed and well-spoken entrepreneurs are able to establish more trust and loyalty with business owners as opposed to the entrepreneurs whose appearance and actions are shabby. Efficient networking is about developing associations with others who can refer you once they have come to trust you, have faith in you, and feel loyal to you. This is the reason why looking and acting professional is central for successful networking.
2. Always carry business cards
One more good way to fruitfully network for the entrepreneur is to hold his personal business cards with him at all times. This makes the course of establishing contacts effortless since the entrepreneur can simply hand out the cards each time he meets a new associate in a social or professional setting. Business cards include pertinent contact information about the business owner, including his name, phone number, e-mail address, and website. The design of the business card should be simple, clean, and easy to read.
Also, part of business etiquette incorporates the fact that every time an entrepreneur gives out his business card, he is expected to request for a business card in return. This ascertains the mutual exchange of contact information, which is influential in expanding a solid network of contacts. Observations should be written on the back of each business card acquired, plus the time, date, topic(s) of discussion, interests, and any other important information vital for a follow up.
3. Always follow-up with contacts
Any prospective contacts that have been developed should always be followed up with telephone call, an e-mail, or personal hand written note. The entrepreneur should take the process of follow up critically since these vital contacts may be indispensable in the launch and growth of his company. It is also a very good technique of displaying an entrepreneur’s true purpose and authenticity when it comes to business rituals. Follow-ups should be made from a few to several days after the first encounter, assuring that the communication with the contact remains unspoiled. Any follow-up after a few weeks may be looked upon as too long a time for any party to accurately memorize any individuals, conversations, or any events that took place on a given day.
4. Be ready to pitch
Another chief characteristic of effective business networking is the talent of the entrepreneur to present his elevator pitch at all times. No matter whether it is a social or professional situation, he must be all set to “pitch” his plan to anyone and everyone in the hope of establishing a successful network of contacts. It is a good tradition to always be ready to present an elevator pitch for the reason that he may meet the prospect investors, customers, or professionals who can add value to his new business at any time. Continuous pitching will also facilitate an entrepreneur to refine his ideas and fortify his presentation through frequent practice.
As one’s elevator pitch requires ample homework, rehearsal will not only make it faultless but it will also incraese a business owner’s level of confidence. An elevator speech should be original and to the point, taking no more than one minute. Things such as body language, eye contact, speech volume, and emphasis of words are significant in grabbing the eye of audience members. It can also communicate the entrepreneur’s zeal for his ideas and his vibrant personality. The use of general statements and excessive statistics should be prevented. An entrepreneur who creates an ideal pitch that clearly states its objectives and strikes discussion will be able to effectively establish networking contacts over those whose pitch is boring and not well-constructed.
5. Contact current customers via telephone, e-mail, direct mail, newsletters
A brilliant method of establishing a good rapport with existing customers is to contact them and talk about their recent purchase. This can be made by means of e-mail, telephone, and direct mail. By casually asking existing customers to rate their shopping experience at their store and/or ideas on a particular product, an entrepreneur will be able to learn more about how his customers perceive his business and work on improving a customer’s overall shopping experience.
Additionally, an entrepreneur can simply establish ways of retaining customers by offering them special discounts and promotional offers through e-mail and direct mail. It is essential that an entrepreneur gets in touch with his customers and offer these bargains as it reflects a company’s loyalty to his customers. In a similar fashion, happily satisfied customers will pay more for items if a company makes them feel important and if they have had a positive customer service experience. Therefore, it is vital that business owners do things which will establish a loyal group of returning customers who will refer their friends and families to the same services. Customers should also be given the alternative to subscribe to newsletters advertising current sales and newly launched products and services. A solid relationship with existing customers through e-mail and direct mail interface is a sure-shot way of establishing new contacts, especially if the current customers are happy with the services.
6. Be culturally aware
Another significant constituent of network etiquette is cultural awareness. If the entrepreneur is thinking of establishing business in a foreign location or dealing with international contacts, then cultural differences should be stoutly taken into account. For instance, in the United States, Americans hand out their business cards rather informally, during social and professional events. The card is either placed in their pocket or bag immediately. The Japanese, in contrast, have a more formal approach when presenting their business cards. When they have developed a business contact, the Japanese make use of both hands to hold the top two corners of the card facing up and in front of the person receiving the card so that it can be easily viewed and read. The receiver should take the card by the lower two corners with both hands.
In addition, when networking, it is essential for an entrepreneur of a new business to comprehend the subtle, unspoken dynamics of social space (or separation) in every culture. Social space implies the distance and/or physical contact between two or more people conversing or interacting in a given situation. In USA, there are four important separations to consider. For instance, one’s public space can vary anywhere from 12 to 25 feet, while social space can be an area of 4 to 10 feet. Personal space can be 2 to 4 feet, while intimate space extends up to one foot. Americans often like to make physical contact with others, including handshakes, hand-gestures, hugs, and/ or innocent pats on the back. While it may seem normal in America, many cultures may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed with such contact.
In Saudi Arabia, the social space amid individuals is equal to the American intimate space; as a result, there is no need to be alarmed or disturbed if a Saudi business contact appears as if he is standing a little too close while conversing. The inhabitants of the Netherlands have a personal space that is equivalent to our social space; therefore, entrepreneurs who plan to meet with Dutch contacts should remain at such a distance during the course of their meeting.
7. Be involved on and offline
Entrepreneurs can also network by building alliances on and offline. By participating in meetings, workshops, and speaking at conferences, an entrepreneur can easily network with people in their industry and establish solid leads. In addition, by participating in online forums, chat rooms, mailing lists, and social networking sites designed for business owners, one can also maximize their chance of establishing new potential leads.