Linked In To Leverage

bigstock-black-african-american-ethnici-83481563No matter who you are or what your experience, starting a business is a nerve-wracking process.  The true beginning of a new entity – a start-up – is the germ of an idea that keeps you up at night (like right now!); distracts you at work; monopolizes conversations with friends and family; gives energy, inspiration and hope.  It builds from an idea to a research project; it is only natural, and absolutely necessary, to immerse oneself in the topic – reading everything, talking to other professionals.  A budding entrepreneur has to seek a place in the market that is meant for him or her to fill.

That is me.

There are three main hurdles that the average person will typically face when starting a business.  Some people may not be hindered by all three but at least one will be an issue to some degree.

  1. Technical knowledge

One of the most common pieces of advice that entrepreneurs are given is to gain two years of work experience in their intended industry before going into business for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  “Experience is a good teacher.”  But I would argue that having a “job” in the field doesn’t in and of itself mean that a person has gained the skills, knowledge base or fortitude needed to start and run their own business.  What if a person has no desire to be an employee and wants to go directly into entrepreneurship?  There is another way, and that is by leveraging the experience of others.

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2.  Support

Entrepreneurs are also often advised to build a team, or “board of advisors,” no matter how much experience.  The ability to connect with the right people who have the skills, knowledge, experience and willingness to help achieve the person’s vision is fundamental.  I learned this back in 2005 when I entered the annual business plan competition at the Brooklyn Library for the same business I am building now.  Many years later (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog) I attended graduate school to gain the “book knowledge” on the industry that I was lacking.

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Me at a training.

I have a very curious, expressive, detail-oriented, and – I’d like believe – humble character.   So seeking the counsel of many others is my thing.  Over the years I have gone out of my way to be around people in my industry.  If I wasn’t seeking advice I was taking it.  I leave no stone unturned (I don’t think…)  I’ve traveled hundreds of miles to expensive conferences, attended local events, taken trains two or more states away many times for parties, seminars and speeches hosted by industry groups and organizations.  A couple of years ago I had two advisors through the SCORE program with the Small Business Administration (that’s a whole other blog post.)  In October 2017 I am going to a conference in Barbados.

 

The goal had always been to make connections that will become fruitful when the right opportunity presented itself.  But now my goal is very specific: to build my team.  I’ve been having some success lately via LinkedIn.  Recently I met someone who seems to have all four of the traits I’m looking for in an advisor/partner: a) have the experience I am in need of for what I want to accomplish; b) have the desire to be a mentor, providing consistent, long-term guidance; c) take me seriously; and d) isn’t needlessly condescending, presumptuous or biased.  I find that the key is finding people who are hungry for change.  People who are looking for an opportunity for freedom to control their destiny in a way that capitalizes on their interests and expertise.  Everything seems to go back to my network marketing training!  Retired professionals are a great resource.  I spoke with one gentleman I met through a family connection, but he failed the test when he stated, “You don’t know what you want,”  as though enquiring about his background and his perspective on market opportunities means that I’m clueless, aimlessly fishing for something to grab on to.  Through LinkedIn I’ve been able to identify and contact experts in industry and academia that I probably would have had no knowledge of otherwise.  It’s amazing how many highly desirable people I’ve been able to introduce myself to and how fast conversations have developed, just from this one platform.  It’s really powerful and I highly recommend it.

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5 Clever Ways to Raise Money For Your Startup Without Making an Investor Pitch

    3.  MONEY!

Donald Trump has praised the power of debt.  He was able to build a real estate empire by leveraging Other Peoples’ Money to a high degree.  The power of OPM has become very real for me in my real estate investing business.  Real estate investors depend on private and hard money lenders for property purchase and rehabilitation.  It is how someone with little money of their own can begin a lucrative career in the field.  But it is a skill to be cultivated.

6 Tips for Borrowing Startup Funds from Friends or Family

That isn’t what I was taught.  As far as I knew, if you wanted to start a business you needed to save your own money and possibly take out a bank loan.  It seemed like venture capitalists and private investors were for the very sophisticated.  You had to be “linked in” to a different world, or something.  I had no idea that I could have access to this kind of capital and how to go about it.

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Raising capital for a business doesn’t have to be torturous.  It requires self-confidence, a plan with a great elevator pitch, a clear and specific ask, persistence and creativity.  Below are some ideas.

  • Self-confidence: The best place to start your search for investors is your immediate community: parents, family, friends, colleagues, alumni network – the people you know and the people they know.  This takes courage because we all know that the people closest to us are often the ones to doubt us the most.  It takes courage to face rejection, doubt and possibly thinly-veiled ridicule from the people who have the power to hurt us the most.  But still, it’s better to fail than to never try.
  • Plan:  The best way to win people over is to have a clear plan.  Clear doesn’t mean having all the details. It’s clarity of vision and idea of how you intend to bring it to reality.  Be honest about what you’re not sure about but give ideas about how you plan to go about figuring it out.  The point of the plan is not to have all the answers but to provide a framework for your actions and goals.  Be able to articulate your idea and not allow questions or negative responses to be discouraging.
  • Specify the ask: In articulating a clear plan with confidence, you have to be specific about what you are asking for.  So if your desire is to raise $20,000 speak it into existence! Don’t be vague. “My team is seeking to raise $20,000 for operating costs for the next six months…” – whatever it is. “This is our first (second…third…) round of funding to support our expansion into…”  Offer incentives for different levels of investment.
  • Persistence: I expect to have many conversations, even speaking to the same people several times.  And remember a ‘no’ can some day become a ‘yes.’  Consider no’s temporary.  Keep your prospect list updated on the progress of your campaign whether they have contributed or not.
  • Creativity: A battle is fought over several fronts.  There’s fighting on the ground, there’s intelligence, there’s diplomacy…  In your funding campaign you will also need to utilize many skills, devices and people, as well as altering the message depending on the audience.  Think outside the box.  You make the rules. It’s your show.  Just always respect peoples’ time, be honest, be gracious and communicate well.

 Raising money is another reason it is important to have a team.  You have the   opportunity to reach more people.  If and when you do solicit an investor or venture capitalist, having a team with extensive recent knowledge and experience will bump up your credi(t)bility.  *Credit being the operative word!

Today I am entering the fourth iteration of business goals, bringing with me all the lessons of past efforts.  I’ve learned from my mistakes and feel much better equipped in confidence, skills, knowledge and creativity than I was before.  Getting my business from idea to income-generating entity has been challenging, but I believe that God’s timing is perfect.  I’ve just been preparing for my season.

 

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Sign Seeing

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Over the past couple of weeks three themes have kept popping up everywhere I look!  I’ve had lots of time to sit and reflect on where I am in my life, how I got here and what I need to do to move forward .  The universe seems to be in agreement with me as the same ideas have popped out at me in scripture, social media posts and even Sunday service.  On social media I have commented that the collective unconscious is working overtime right now.  I’m not the only one to notice.  Having a break from “busy”ness has allowed my mind to rest and me to get more centered and focused.    Below are the three ideas that have resonating around me.  The first two I touched on in last week’s blog post.

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  1. Missed Opportunities.  There’s nothing worse than a missed opportunity.  Hindsight is 20/20 As I look back (which I do very carefully!) I can see many of the opportunities I missed either by not grabbing them when I had the chance or not putting myself in the position to create them.  I acknowledge the self-doubt this was rooted in.  Looking back is only useful if you gain lesson to apply to future decisions.  It is an opportunity to fine-tune one’s intuition, ability to reason, and make better life choices.  journeytolaunch_1561592622500438037
  2. Preparation.  Last week I wrote that in business an elevator pitch is valuable tool that will allow the business person to be prepared for a chance encounter with someone who could in some way be instrumental in achieving their business goals.  The meme above was posted on Instagram by a financial coach; it was a post about being prepared financially for life’s emergencies.  This of course ties in to missing opportunities.  Some opportunities come with a cost.  I saw in my past opportunities I missed out on because I was not ready financially – and I could have been.
  3. FOMO.  When I read about the concept of FOMO, a light bulb went off.  When I read it a few days later in the intro to the verses assigned for one day’s bible study, it was like my mind was blown after being struck by lightening!  It perfectly pinpoints something I have sensed about myself while taking an honest look at the past three years.  FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out.  Patrick McGinnis, who coined the term, describes FOMO in the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, Episode 21.

“an inward struggle and it impedes you from disrupting yourself because I think you lack focus. There is a positive side to FOMO in that it can tell you what your hidden dreams and desires are. If you feel FOMO when you see somebody start playing the piano maybe you should go out and take piano lessons….But I find that it is a great way to distract yourself from doing the hard things in your life you need to do. Rather than sitting down…and dealing with that big challenge that you need to deal with, you spend a bunch of time running around doing other things to stay busy.”  

I’ve been reading the book The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Mansen and Les Hewitt.  In one of the first chapters they write about not being distracted by the next shiny new thing.  But the question is ‘why’ do we do that?  The answer is FOMO.  FOMO will eat up lots of opportunity, ironically, because when you’re chasing all you will catch none.  It is futile.

So once the signs are acknowledged the next step is to apply what they teach.  These signs have reiterated a nagging feeling that I need to be doing less, not more.  Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.  I’ve been noticing that the more busy I have become the less satisfied I have been feeling with the results of my efforts.  So now, mid-2017, is a good time to assess my priorities, strategies and activities, make sure they are in line with my goals.

Have you noticed any signs instructive this summer?

Pitch & Leap

There’s no bigger regret than a missed opportunity.  We miss opportunity mainly through lack of preparedness at the time an opportunity presents itself; this includes the inability to recognize an opportunity for what it is.  Always be prepared.  Easy solution, right?  Well I always say that in anything, it’s not the ‘what’ it’s the ‘how.’  Show me, don’t tell me.  Every big idea has to be broken down into smaller, bite-sized, easily-digestible pieces.

So, how do we prepare?

Opportunity mostly lives in the land of the unknown unknowns. But there is a tool we all can and should develop that will build a bridge between us and that most desirable of all destinations – the land of opportunity.  That tool is called the elevator pitch.  A fine-tuned elevator pitch should articulate your purpose succinctly, passionately and clearly – in up to 90 seconds.  And it is not only relevant to business.  You can pitch yourself!  Use it as a self-inspiring tool that reminds you why you wake up every morning; it can silence negative self-talk.  Have a pitch for your job search, business prospects and fundraising.

Preparation for writing your elevator pitch begins with having a clear idea of who you will be pitching to.  The questions you have to ask yourself will depend on your needs and the outcome you want.  For example, are you looking for an investor or a client?  Consider these questions: Who will your audience be?  What problem(s) are they trying to solve and how can you provide resolution?  What is unique about what you have to offer?  What skills and experience qualify you?  What are your needs; what is in it for the listener to help you solve your problem?

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So, what is an elevator pitch?

The truth is we are all salespeople. Everybody is selling something, but ultimately the thing we’re really selling is ourselves.  The elevator pitch is a very brief statement that tells the (hopefully) listener who you are, what you want and how what you have to offer is relevant and valuable to them or in the marketplace.  As far as the latter, the person you’re talking to may not be the one you really need to talk to but he or she may be the link between you and that person.  It’s not important to have all the answers as to whether or not the person you’re speaking with is the right connection; what is important is to master the things you can control, which in this case is articulating a compelling narrative that allows someone else to see you as a potential connection.

Fake It

So, how do we create an elevator pitch?

There are of course the mechanics of writing a pitch.  But the thing to really keep in mind is the power of storytelling.  A good elevator pitch is both informative and engaging.  The end of the story is what will make it or break it; it must be memorable and compel the listener to want to tell it to someone else.  People like retelling great stories.

  • Start with who you are: Don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic and friendly. Start with either a question to raise their curiosity, a statement or catch phrase that will prompt the listener to ask a question.  “I am a first-generation American continuing my family’s legacy here in the United States.  I’m the big-picture person who focuses on developing markets for our textiles company, XYZ International..   
  • Make sure to be clear on your offer, or value proposition.  And let the listener know why you’re interested in them.  “We help small suppliers in Central America earn a living wage by supplying the finest hand-made organic cotton and wool apparel and home goods in the market, at affordable prices.  I understand (your company) is looking for textiles made with organic materials for the price-conscious consumer?”
  • Summarize the benefits/advantages of working with you; what sets you apart from the competition.  “We operate within Free Trade Zones in each country, which significantly lowers our costs to market and enables an efficient supply chain.” Give a brief example.
  • End with a Call To Action.  “We’re currently scheduling appointments to show off our new bedding line. May I bring some samples to show you and your team?”

So, how do I get started?

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As I stated in the beginning, your elevator pitch must be fine tuned.  And it’s not a one-shot deal.  You will have to adjust the original as you progress.  Now, get your pen and paper ready.  Here are some tips to get your ideas flowing:

  1.  Write down everything you can think of to tell your prospective client/boss/investor. What makes your business or idea unique? What have you done? What are you planning too accomplish? What do you have to offer that the listener wants or needs? What problem can you solve for them?
  2. Edit.  Eliminate extraneous words and details.  Make every word count! No small talk.
  3. Tweak it until it flows smoothly.  If any part sounds awkward to you it will to the person you’re talking to.
  4. Practice. Practice. Practice.  Anchor your pitch in the key points that you always want to come across clearly.  Memorize it and practice saying it out loud, so that it is second nature by the time you need to say it.
  5. Your pitch will fall flat if it doesn’t address the only question your listener wants answered: WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?”

Let Your Body Talk

When you feel good about the elevator pitch you have developed it is time to take the leap to the testing phase.  Put yourself in situations where you will meet other people in your industry where you will be asked what you do.  Do not underestimate the power of body language.  Your body language will speak even more loudly than your voice will.  Like preparedness, your body language can imbue you with the confidence you may not feel yet.  Stand with shoulders back and be very careful about what your hands communicate. Keep your body open, keep your hands in front of you.  Maintain eye contact with a pleasant disposition.  Research body language and practice it as you rehearse your pitch.

Industry organizations, networking events, alma mater socials, etc are great places to try out your pitch.  When you’re in a group make a connection with each person by looking each person in the eye while expressing a single thought.  Try to avoid cutting off the other people around you. Practice with people with whom there is nothing to lose if you fumble a little.  Don’t make your first stop the biggest fish in the pond.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!