Three tips to make your networking as brilliant as your business idea
Entrepreneur “Google ‘business planning’ and you may get 100,000 answers, but it probably won’t tell you what you actually need to know." Entrepreneurs need to talk to other entrepreneurs.
The Irish economy is flourishing but entrepreneurs need help in growing their business as never before. “Long ago, in 2008/9, we did a survey on what entrepreneurs need most as support,” says Ron Immink, co-founder of Business Achievers.
1. Access real people’s collective wisdom
“People need a network of contacts - it’s still who you know, not what you know.”
“We have found that entrepreneurs are continuously seeking information, but while you can always google something, the information you get in return is always flat and often not what’s actually needed,” says Ron Immink, co-founder of Business Achievers, an informational portal for SMEs.
“Google ‘business planning’ and you may get 100,000 answers but it won’t tell you what you need to know for the actual problem you are facing. But SMEs need specific answers to questions such as, ‘After Brexit, how do I move to Germany?’ Entrepreneurs want to be able to talk to other entrepreneurs who have been there and got the t-shirt and will be able to offer good advice about a future course of action.”
What entrepreneurs really need, he says, is access to collective wisdom as provided by modern technology to help solve problems. “People need a network of contacts - it’s still who you know, not what you know,” says Ron. “Nothing has changed fundamentally. Michio Kaku established the caveman principle that we are social and herd animals and we need to mix.
“Michio Kaku established the caveman principle that we are social and herd animals and we need to mix.”
Irish and English entrepreneur networks tend to be too mono and don’t encompass other nationalities in Europe. Also, warm introductions in person rather than networking on LinkedIn where you might never meet the other person are the most effective. I might have seven thousand connections on LinkedIn but if I haven’t actually met them, where’s the trust?”
The support of Ulster Bank, which is in turn a part of RBS, is a further bonus. “Banks can be incredibly powerful if they galvanise the network and connections they have with for example support agencies such as EI, LEOs, chambers of commerce and export agencies,” he says. The circles ripple outwards: RBS is involved with innovation hubs in Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley, which greatly increases the potential networks and opportunities that will benefit SMEs. “RBS can offer a matchmaking service there and through their branches in the UK,” he says.
2. Look for blessings in disguise, like Brexit
Of course, there is a very specific issue looming in the future. “The onset of Brexit is something else entrepreneurs want help and support with,” says Ron. “The philosophy of Business Achievers is that if the SME asks for help, then it will be provided through a support network, the portal and workshops. We are seeing lots of initiatives devoted to Brexit,” he says.
“Problems can be opportunities to transfer or pivot your business model.”
“We are helping companies to use it as an opportunity to transfer their business model and it could be a blessing in disguise. The Irish economy is so dependent on the UK that maybe this will force it to look beyond it to Europe, India and China, and we can help you with that. Join Business Achievers and ask us the question.”
Eddie Cullen, Managing Director of Ulster Bank’s Commercial Banking division is also keen to emphasise the importance of good advice. “Every entrepreneur comes up with a good idea in whatever field it may be from food production to engineering technology, but that is very different from running and building a business,” he says.
3. It’s not just consultancies for good advice
“Business Achievers is a place to get practical help and support from other business owners, whether it’s finding out how to explore new markets or access state supports,” he says. It’s an informational portal for SMEs who want to scale up and also provides a crucial network of corporate contacts. It started as SmallBusinessCan and merged with Business Achievers a couple of months ago.
"More established companies turn to consultants for advice on such matters, there are other routes SMEs can take."
“Along with using various chambers of commerce, Enterprise Ireland is another good source of networking, he says. One cannot underestimate the importance of good advice.
“Banks are the obvious choice for raising finance and as a partner in creating business plans, but while more established companies can turn to consultants for advice on such matters, there are other routes to take for smaller SMEs.
“Through our parent RBS we have a lot of powerful content and resources to leverage but what we realised from speaking to customers is just how powerful peer-to-peer help can be in particular for SMEs and emerging entrepreneurs, both in terms of sharing stories and sharing solutions and sometimes in a more affordable manner that traditional advice channels. We’ll provide unique and relevant content for all businesses, and other supports, but the real value Business Achievers will provide is in the peer-to-peer learning element.”
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