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10 networking tips for young entrepreneurs

(ENTREPRENEUR TIPS) – When you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, growth is always on your mind. Networking is one of the most powerful ways to expand your growing empire, so here’s some practical advice to get you on your way.

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It’s time to get out there!

As a budding entrepreneur, you surely have an idol in your industry. This is probably someone who has worked very hard to achieve their position and sits very comfortably with their success. Even the most wealthy and respected entrepreneurs started somewhere, however, and the majority started in the same position as you. One of the ways they managed to climb from beginner to professional is through networking.

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People are the key to your personal and business success. When you network, you’re able to talk with people who have experience in your industry. They can give advice and help you build your trade to a level you may not reach on your own.

“I owe every job I’ve ever had to networking,” says Tom Farley, the president of the NYSE. He argues that networking is one of the most important things young entrepreneurs can do for their careers.

If you’re not sure where to start with networking, then here are a few ideas:

1. Believe in your business

When you’re strongly committed to your business, you won’t seem as young and naïve. You’ll take on the appearance of a confident, successful businessperson. Someone that everyone wants to associate with.

2. Take advantage of service opportunities

Service is free, which always leaves a strong impact on the recipient. Jumping into local events and organizations and offering your time can help you connect with important individuals. People don’t usually turn down free things, and it could be your foot in the right door.

3. Give gifts as a token of appreciation

When someone makes a connection with you, it’s customary to send a thank you card, or even a gift to show your appreciation. Appropriate corporate gifts can send a message of professionalism while leaving a good impression on the recipient.

4. Ask questions of the greats

The wise and successful usually have no problem sharing tips and ideas. When seeking guidance, ask very specific questions, so others don’t have to do extra work in the process. They’ll be much more likely to impart their knowledge when you do most of the work. Take any knowledge you receive to heart, and apply it, so it’s not a waste of your time.

5. Put puzzle pieces together

Networking is kind of like putting together a puzzle. Each connection you make is a piece of that puzzle. Find ways to unite your connections, and integrate the information you’re learning, so it can all create a bigger picture.

6. Have a professional portfolio or blog

On the flip side, sometimes networking is people finding you. When you post a public, professional portfolio or blog, people can view your achievements and will be enticed to make a connection. It saves you time and helps to make more meaningful connections with people who want to help.

7. Follow up

For most people, a single meeting won’t forge a relationship. It takes multiple interactions to create that link, which makes following up essential to networking success.

8. Find your people

Look for those who will have the greatest impact on you, and only associate with them. If you’ve made a connection that’s weighing you down and doing very little to promote your success, don’t be afraid to cut that person loose.

9. Attend conferences

When you don’t have a lot of time for networking on a personal level, go to conferences and other networking events. Many of the people you’ll want to meet will be in a single room, which helps you to narrow down your choices and forge some meaningful relationships.

10. Use social media

Harnessing the power of social media is also a great tool for the time-strapped entrepreneur. LinkedIn, for example, is the ultimate platform for business networking, and you can connect with people on Twitter and Facebook as well. Put yourself out there using this far-reaching online tool, and you’ll see the benefits of your efforts.

#EntrepreneurLife

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software options for your company? Well, we have a list of suggestions and questions to help you determine what is best for you.

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It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Will startups ever fully return to offices?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Founders Forum survey seeks to understand how early-stage startups are changing their workplace strategy to adapt to our new COVID-19 controlled world.

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Startups in the tech industry are notorious for growing their businesses from their bedrooms, coffee shops, and mom’s basement. What more do you need when you have a phone, a computer, and a strong Internet connection? Besides of course, an idea and a lot of nerve.

Evidently, a lot more, hence the burgeoning coworking space industry that has surged in the United States in recent years. Founders have flocked to shared workspaces to find employees, mentors, and exchange ideas and resources with other startups. Creating a shared space to build community amongst like-minded individuals makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, the entire premise of the physical setup of this community has been challenged by the coronavirus. Founders have been driven back to their homes and basements, but have not lost their hunger for community.

That’s why the UK-based entrepreneur community Founders Forum is conducting a comprehensive study about the future of work for startups. “Founders are having to make critical decisions about their return to work strategy in isolation,” Founders Forum Executive Chairman and co-Founder Brent Hoberman told TechCrunch. The survey seeks to understand what founders are thinking about remote work strategies and, use of office space going forward.

As we begin to grapple with the increasingly real scenario where people will have to endure waves of quarantine as we wait for an immunity breakthrough, startups, SMBs, and tech giants alike are reconsidering their daily work structures to adapt to a new reality. Large companies like Facebook, Spotify, and Twitter have announced sweeping changes like indefinite work from home options for certain employees. This survey seeks to gather the yet-to-be-explored ideas from the early stage startup community.

In the entrepreneurial spirit of community and collaboration, the fundamental question at play here is, “How are other founders changing their workplace strategy?” The survey will also attempt to shed light on how employees’ various remote work environments may influence their point of view on strategies for moving forward.

Founders can take the survey here. TechCrunch will publish the results.

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