In 20 years of dealing with entrepreneurs and investors nearly every day, I have learned with certainty that in entrepreneurship, as in life, there are no absolutes.
On the other hand, I am convinced that one thing comes close to being universally true: Entrepreneurs who learn how to build mutually beneficial business relationships have a much greater opportunity to succeed.
Offer value to all participants
By mutually beneficial business relationships, I mean those that offer something of value to all participants. For the entrepreneur, that value may be advice, information, technology or even investment. For the other party, returns can range from financial gains to the intangible karmic benefit of giving back.
Mutually beneficial relationships are the cornerstone to successful business creation.
Be purposeful with your relationships
Relationships are just as important as product or business development and should be a deliberate element of every business plan.
And, just like the other building blocks of new companies, purposeful relationships don’t happen automatically — even for gregarious entrepreneurs who connect with others easily.
So what are the steps?
1. Develop a networking mindset based on these beliefs:
- I don’t, can’t and won’t know everything I need to know about building a company.
- There are plenty of people who have started companies before me. A lot of them know what I don’t know. Many are eager to help the next entrepreneur. That could be me.
- The way I reach these people is through relationships that provide benefits to all parties involved.
2. Be coachable and open to information and advice. Angels or venture capitalists will tell you that the quality of the management team and its ability and willingness to listen and learn is every bit as important as technology.
3. Learn to listen and to speak. Many entrepreneurs are outgoing, assertive and bold. It’s easy for these folks to meet strangers. Talking about their company, product, hopes and plans is as natural as taking a breath. For other entrepreneurs, relating to people just doesn’t come as naturally as relating to technology.
If you are a talker, take Will Rogers’ advice and, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” If you are an entrepreneur who would rather communicate over email than face-to-face, get over it.
4. Engage in purposeful networking.Form business relationships around your business objectives. Limit your participation in “networking events.”
These functions are great ways to meet other entrepreneurs and to hear expert speakers on entrepreneurial topics, but be careful not to overdo it. No entrepreneur has enough time.
5. Make good use of the pre-built, organized networks in your geography. For example, TechColumbus offers Networked Connections, a series of unique services that connect entrepreneurs directly to people who can help in specific ways.
Purposeful relationships with a variety of people through formal and informal structures help entrepreneurs — and their marketing and chief technology officers — create, grow and operate new companies.
And whether a startup has an amazingly profitable exit or has to shut its doors, the entrepreneur who has learned how to build enduring business relationships is in a great position to start his or her next company. Meaningful relationships are assets that don’t disappear. ●
Tom Walker, president and CEO of TechColumbus Inc., has been a leader in entrepreneurship and turning innovation-based discoveries into commercial opportunities for the past 20 years. A seasoned founder and manager of venture funds and entrepreneurial initiatives, he is the author of “The Entrepreneur’s Path: A Handbook for High-Growth Companies,” a step-by-step guide to commercialization for entrepreneurs with big ideas. You can reach him at (614) 487-3700 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.techcolumbus.org.
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