Tuesday, 2 March 2010

#10: Net-works

Throughout Jan-Mar I've been posting the "12 entrepreneurial lessons I learnt from 2009" series.

Installments so far: Introduction,
Lesson : #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9

Everyone's heard it, some of you will have said it:
"It's not what you know, but who you know".
Whether you believe it's that simple or not, it is hard to deny that knowing the right people can put a good entrepreneur on the fast track to success. I do mean exactly that, though, knowing the right people can put a good entrepreneur on the fast track to success.

A really good entrepreneur can almost certainly make it without much outside support, it'll just take longer, and if you're a bad entrepreneur, well, all the who-you-knows in the world aren't going to help you. But for most startups, securing pertinent, influential contacts within our sector or customer base is an important part of our development.

And the way to get to know the right people in your industry is to build a network.. and when it comes to building a targeted international network, cheaply and effectively - the 'net works.*

There are a lot of doubters when it comes to online networking, and a lot of online networking platforms to have doubts about. There are also a lot of blog posts out there dedicated to; why you should care, which sites to choose and how best to use them. So I'm simply going to remind you that 80% of the UK use some sort of social network and I suggest that, unless you're certain both your influential industry mentors, product/service evangalists and your competitors and pissed off contacts/customers are all in the 20% not using soical media, you might want to do a little strategising in this area. That's all. ;-)

3 tips on building and nurturing a business network online:

1) Target

Very simple maths. There's one of you, there are lots of social networking sites; any one of which could easily consume several hours of your day, everyday. Target the right sites, target users who log in frequently, share good content and have a strong following themselves, and ration your time there.

If you're hiring and you want to see CV's you'll be better on Linked In than Livejounal, which would suit you better if you're an aspiring writer. Bands looking for signing head to MySpace: to quickly spread documents and links try Twitter, to build a fan base start a Facebook Group, to get the attention of an industry leader comment thoughtfully on their blog. If they don't blog, comment thoughtfully on your blog and send them the link.

You can't make a play on all the networking sites out there. Spend a little time deciding on your aim and audience, and pick the one that suits you best. Use your time there productively. Which leads me to my next tip..

2) Make yourself useful

Once you've picked your target site, settle in and make yourself useful.

The most common mistake I hear from newbies is asking what is the benefit they'll receive from online networking. To paraphrase an old one, "ask not what the network can do for you, ask what you can do for your network". Make yourself useful to others. It'll earn you friends, respect from the community, it could accrue you favours and it will showcase your knowledge. Explaining this to a freind the other day, they then likened Twitter to a gift economy. I couldn't have said it better. Make it your mission to be useful, the rest will follow.

3) Seal the deal, respectfully

Approaching someone online is a very different skill to walking up to them at a networking session. One of the deceptive things about the internet is how it distances you from the other person. You're socialising or collaborating but not face to face, not necessarily in real time, they can't see you, and you lose the 93% of communicative clues we use that are non verbal. Accordingly, it is more important than ever to be respectful when writing emails, messages, and forum posts to possible contacts. Always be polite. Always get to your point in the minimum number of lines, and you must double check spelling, punctuation and grammar, it's the online equivalent of ironing your shirt and polishing your shoes!

Many social networks try to account for the lack of non verbal cues by allowing avatars, font and colour customisation. All I can say is that these don't fully compensate for the complexities of body language and vocal tone but they do still count. Suffice to say people who email me in Coloured Comic Sans have a special place in my inbox. Oh and one more thing, get a sensible email address. No one is going to take "tinkerbell84" or "racerboy1" very seriously.

Treat your online network with no less care than you would treat someone you were meeting face to face. In fact, treat online contacts with greater care. There is often a temptation to hide behind the web and allow the distance and relative anonymity to fool us into become louder, brasher or more pushy than we would be in person. Dont.
No, really - don't!
Everyone has bad days and everyone misjudges situations sometimes but If you're a little pushy or rude to someone in person, only you and they know about it, and the moment (hopefully) passes. If you're throwing your weight around on a blog or forum .. the world knows and it becomes public property, out there to be re-lived ceaselessly.

Creating and nurturing a network is difficult! It is a high level skill which takes a huge amount of perception and social bandwidth, but your business needs someone who can do this just as surely as it needs someone to balance the books; and if you're a start up short on time & budget, using the net to broaden your reach is ideal.

Lesson No.10: When it comes to networks.. the net does indeed, work.

*Anyone who thought i'd get through these 12 blog posts without a bad pun, grab your things & move down to the front of the class where I can keep an eye on you. You've obviously not been paying enough attention.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I find it ironic that out of all the posts in the #12Lessons series this one went live with the most typos!
.. it really ought to be easier to take ones own good advice..