Thursday, 07 March 2019
No business is an island, and smart owners have a vibrant and varied network of contacts that they can lean on in times of trouble. We asked business experts and founders to help us compile the ultimate hit list.
AKA, the Kevin Bacon, according to Ben Gamble, co-founder of event management and creative agency Shout About London. “There are six degrees of separation between you and anyone you want to connect with,” he says, “and every now and then, there’s a Kevin Bacon that can get you there a few moves quicker.”
Gamble points out that true connectors are quite a rare breed because they focus on giving value to everyone in their vast network – they connect people to one another based on reciprocal benefits for all parties and, crucially, he says, they never keep score. “Whenever I need access to someone I don’t know,” says Gamble, “I look to be introduced by someone with integrity, someone who’s known to add value to others. By that logic, I must be worth speaking to.”
“In the sometime politically nefarious world of business, having someone you can be truly authentic around is crucial for your sanity,” says Gamble. “Create, laugh, be goofy – or don’t. Just be yourself.” In times of distress, he says, the buddy is that person in your network who is there exactly when you need them and who can make you laugh aloud.
“You can find people who fit the bill for this everywhere,” Gamble says, adding that you just have to spot the right qualities in someone. The best way to attract someone with this kind of authenticity, he says, is to be equally authentic in return.
Business networking expert Will Kintish says that, as a small business owner, you’re likely to be pretty invisible in the grand scheme of things; in order to flourish you need to change this. The marketer – your go-to sage on everything from social media to LinkedIn articles to email campaigns and more – can help.
“The more you tell, the more you sell,” says Kintish, who adds that smart SME founders should also make a habit of asking thriving business owners in their network exactly how they are currently attracting their customers.
“This person is passionate about what they do,” says Rupert Rixon, founder of digital video company Perspective Pictures. “They always find the bright side of a situation, and are the person to call on when you’re about to approach an important client because they’re so full of enthusiasm.” The hope, of course, is that some of this will rub off on you.
“Whenever I need access to someone I don’t know, I look to be introduced by someone with integrity, someone who’s known to add value to others. By that logic, I must be worth speaking to”
Rixon says a friend named Thev fills the role of the enthusiast for him; Thev runs a social media company named Filli Studios and he recently fired up the whole Perspective Pictures team when he gave a talk to them.
Top tip: Rixon says the best place to find an enthusiast if no one currently fits the bill is at industry events or on Facebook groups.
Everyone needs an experienced all-round heavyweight to lean on, and Jamie Waller, author of business advice book Unsexy Business, says you want someone with serious credentials to fill this role. “I’m not talking about an MBA, I’m talking about experience,” he says. “Turn to the expert when you need sensible, practical advice from an objective third party. These people are great when you have specific business challenges like contract disputes, raising finance or selling your business.”
Waller says the best experts are usually to be found via an introduction. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking a simple LinkedIn search will succeed here,” he says. “I know this from experience. In my book I tell the story of a LinkedIn business expert I hired who tried to push me out of my own business.”
Different to the expert, the mentor in your network is someone with whom you can build a strong relationship and who will give honest feedback; Waller, who is also the founder of investment firm Firestarters, says they will challenge you when it’s needed. “I met Jane Farrell of [business diversity consultancy] EW Group while on a business growth course,” says Waller.
“We met monthly to discuss all things business, but the conversation often turned towards problems I was having in my senior team. Jane was a great listener and on many occasions, she helped me realise the problem was me and how I was approaching or handling the situation, not the people I was moaning about.” This is vital to hear, he says, when you’re the CEO and everyone is being guided by you.
Merje Shaw, co-founder and managing director of digital consultancy Path59 and founder of urban Scandi gardening website Scandiscapes, says she’s lucky enough to have two of these in her network: one is her actual accountant, the other runs her own food import business. Both thrive on detail and process improvement – unlike Shaw, who is more driven by vision and strategy.
“They get excited over spreadsheets,” she says. “Scandiscapes was recently offered a pop-up space in a shop and I couldn’t work out whether I was likely to break even or not. Within minutes of talking to my food import friend about it, I had a full bells-and-whistles spreadsheet, complete with formulas ready to do the calculations. That’s a good friend.”
This person could equally be known as the accelerator because they can seriously speed up your business progress, says Ali Miles-Jenkins, CEO of management training company Leading Light Learning and founder of BoomBoss, a business consultancy for women over 50. “They are driven, demanding and they defy what to you may seem ‘traditional’ ways of thinking,” she says. “Call on them when you’re feeling reluctant to step out of your comfort zone into something you perceive to be risky but yet you recognise deep down that the leap is worth taking.”
Miles-Jenkins says her son, an entrepreneur in his early 20s, currently fills this role in her network. “He can be harsh and I may argue back or get upset,” she says. “But here’s the thing: it works!”