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Networking To Plug Entrepreneurs’ Skills Gaps

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by Emma Maslen, CEO and founder of inspir‘em and author of “The Personal Board of You Inc.”

People need to build (and rebuild) their networks over time, for example when you decide to set up your own business or have a portfolio career of part-time roles, or if you intend to seek out directorships once you’ve made it to senior executive level.

For entrepreneurs, building a network or ‘Personal Board’ can offer essential support. A Personal Board is a well-respected group of people built from your network, with whom you have regular contact, and whose advice you will carefully consider (even if you end up not acting on that advice). It emulates a corporate board as a group of key advisors who meet often to make strategic decisions about the recommended next steps for a person or organisation.

Extending your network

Your network is the keystone – the foundation – of your Personal Board strategy. A Personal Board should not be a static concept. It needs to evolve alongside you, adapting to your career, your promotions, new markets, new sectors, new skills, etc.

Common stumbling blocks to extending your network include:

  • ‘I just don’t know how to get those connections.’
  • ‘I don’t know how to meet the people I need for my Personal Board.’
  • ‘I’m not comfortable searching for people I don’t already know.’

Today’s generation has a significant advantage when setting up a Personal Board. The internet and the advent of social media render the world a far smaller, more intimate space, as evidenced by the original six degrees of separation theory having been reduced, by 2016, to less than four degrees.

If you have any reservations about extending your network, remember the specific purposes for and benefits of your Personal Board:

  • New role:
    • Acquire new skills for the new elements of the role.
    • Increase your ideas and knowledge of a new industry.
    • Expand your network, getting to know key people in the industry
  • Customer connections:
    • Extend your client base if you are starting a business.
    • Make customer connections if you are engaged in a customer-facing role.
  • New territory/country:
    • Improve your local market knowledge and connections.
  • Peer review:
    • Benefit from new peer-to-peer connections.

There are endless benefits to expanding your network. Pretty much any new role, business or promotion will require a shake-up and expansion of your network, and asking your existing Personal Board members to provide you with their valuable connections can be a game-changer too.

Asking contacts for contacts

It’s simple. There are people out there who can potentially help you, but you don’t know them. However, some of your network contacts do.

One of the most effective uses for your Personal Board is to brainstorm additional connections that could impact your situation or future.

When asking your contacts for new connections, the trick is to make the introduction quick and easy. You then need to ‘sell’ the meeting and arrange it with as little hassle for the other person as possible.

If these are new connections and you are looking for a deeper level of help and assistance, there will be a process you will need to go through to establish the new link, to build the relationship and rapport, before finally asking the connection to help you. This does take time and should be a consideration when you are thinking about what you are going to ask of them.

It can be easy to make initial connections, but there’s no guarantee every person will respond positively to every request they receive. However, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by nearly all the reactions you receive.

Linking people in this manner costs me virtually nothing in time, and providing I have thought carefully about a connection that will be relevant and useful, I have managed to help both parties. This way I am placing a penny in the jar for a later day when I might need a connection.

Most senior people understand the value of helping others, whether that is for building connections, enhancing their personal brand or simply for the good feeling from helping others. When I hear of an opportunity or receive a request, I immediately consider whether there is anybody in my network who might be able to help, and I’d say that around 80% of the time somebody gets something materially useful out of the situation. It’s worked for me many times over with my Personal Board, and I am confident it will continue to yield results.

 

*this is an adapted extract from “The Personal Board of You Inc.” by Emma Maslen

 

Emma Maslen

Emma Maslen is a sales leader, coach, CEO and founder of inspir‘em and author of The Personal Board of You Inc. She works with start-ups, scale-ups and large enterprises, coaching their teams to higher growth and in 2018, became an angel investor through Angel Academe.