January 4, 2018
As small businesses and entrepreneurs take their products to market, one of the greatest accelerants to help fuel growth are personal and professional networks.
Whether it is a formal professional network or an informal personal one, tapping into the knowledge and experience of friends, colleagues and other entrepreneurs can be a huge advantage for businesses just getting off the ground.
Bob Circosta, a pioneering force in the television home shopping revolution, put it succinctly. “I have found over the past 40 years that there are two keys to successfully marketing any product or business. First, you have to have the right presentation – but then you have to have the right distribution,” said Circosta, known as “TV’s Billion Dollar Man.”
So what can entrepreneurs do to get to the right network and make sure they have the kind of distribution that Circosta sees as a key to success?
That was one of the central questions of a symposium hosted by HSN and the University of Tampa that brought together nearly thirty small business experts, entrepreneurs and leaders for a morning of conversation about “Cultivating Small Businesses in the 21st Century,” in mid-November in Washington, DC.
Greta Schettler, the Chief Operating Officer of We Connect International, a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world, said, “what we find is being able to work collectively and through partnerships to find and bring those potential suppliers together makes the job easier.”
We Connect identifies, educates, registers, and certifies women’s business enterprises based outside of the U.S. that are at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women, and then connects them with multinational corporate buyers.
“We educate women business owners on how to access new markets and grow their companies while also training corporations on how to source from women business owners and helping women business owners on how to sell to corporations”, said Schettler, the groups COO.
We Connect also identifies women-owned businesses, helps determine their readiness to access new markets and delivers a certification for Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) wanting to do business with corporations committed to global supplier diversity and inclusion. The organization has won many supporters by breaking down the barriers that prevent women business owners from connecting to each other and to new market opportunities, including connections to local and multinational corporate buyers.
Bret Harris, Director of Business Development at Indiegogo, the world’s largest crowd-funding platform, thinks networks can be built, not just found. “You can create a network and create all these services, and support, and things that the government is doing but, really it’s just removing those barriers, and giving people opportunity. Because, that’s what is going to create networks in of itself.”
Harris pointed to Indiegogo’s success with female entrepreneurs as an example. “Less than 10% of venture capital backed companies have female founders but on Indiegogo it’s almost 50% of the companies that are raising funds, and are successfully raising funds, have female entrepreneurs. So our experience is the best way to create a network is to just give people access and a platform to share their story and their product.”
Morri Chowaiki, Head of Sales and Retail for Daymond John at The Shark Group, thinks informal networks and non-profit causes can also be keys to success. “There’s a number of formal networks like We Connect and I think those are really important, but informal networks should not be overlooked,” said Chowaiki.
Informal networks include social groups and relationships that exist outside the traditional confines of a business and the vendor/supplier dynamic. “Get involved in the non-profit world,” continued Chowaiki, “because the relationships and the contacts that they’re going to make at that level, they’re going to be able to contribute and learn and be able to apply that to whatever they’re doing while building that network.”
To learn more about business networks that can help your business get off the ground or grow, check out the next American Dreams Academy in a city near you and learn how you can participate by here.