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Introduction to networking

What makes a good network, and how can they be useful? In this video we asked entrepreneurs from the Bristol why it's important to talk about ideas.
I think it’s important to talk about ideas to actually work out whether it’s viable. You can often get a feel from friends and from other business owners whether what you’re talking about has been done before. And you can get so excited about a project that sometimes you put blinkers on, and you can’t see that this could be refined or that’s not quite the direction you should be taking it in. And I do find talking to people often opens your eyes to other areas of the business you could develop.
Again, there’s a bit of a tendency or a desire to keep your ideas secret, because you don’t want anybody steal them, but generally, from what I found, people are busy, they have their own projects, their own work going on, and so the chances of somebody stealing your ideas is pretty minimal. But you need to get other perspectives and other viewpoints on an idea to actually eventually come out with the right one. The chances that the first idea you have on any topic or any subject is the best and the right one is basically not going to happen. I think you need to get other people, other perspectives.
So, whether that’s the idea for a business, get other people who are running their own businesses or who are in the industry to talk it through, think about it, will help you identify and see the roadblocks and the problems that you going to have coming up or the challenges that you’re going to face. Or even if it’s an idea to solve a problem within your company, generally I think if somebody comes up with an idea then just going and doing it on their own is probably not going to lead to the best results.
The best thing to do, in my opinion, throw it up on a whiteboard, get a few people, talk it through, find some different approaches, different inputs and you’ll get to the best solution faster.
So people often ask me: is it important to talk about your ideas? I think, absolutely, ‘yes’ with a couple of caveats. So, yes it’s really important as part of the development process for an idea because and, like I say, an idea is worthless, it’s about the implementation of it. So, you know, it kind of depends what people mean by an idea. I’d be an incredibly rich man if I got a pound for every single time I expressed what WeTrain and Up My Sport was and someone said ‘oh yes I thought about doing that’.
But the reality is, it’s about how you implement, so through talking to the right kind of people and the right kind of people that you can trust and that you can build your knowledge from, that’s critical. Talking to people where you’re going to get bad advice you’ve got to be a bit more careful. So, there’s a really really important judgment call to make and you just need to fundamentally be comfortable with that. I would say that there’s a lot more people you can trust than you think you can when it comes to ideas because people aren’t going to run off.
One of the best things I would recommend when you’re trying to network more at the start is having to go to things on your own. We’re quite scared and we often want buddies to go with us and actually taking yourself out of a situation where you’re comfortable and going on your own forces you to talk to people. We’ve all been to networking events with a friend or a boyfriend and we’ve stood in the corner, had a glass of wine and we’ve gone home and not spoken to anyone. And I think actually going without anyone and taking away that security blanket pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you actually network.
You’re ultimately, particularly if you’re starting a company for the first time - so I hadn’t done a company before I didn’t have a phone book full of people that I can ring up and talk to. So you’ve got to start that phone book from scratch. And the only real way to start that phone book is to get out to networking events, meet people, talk to them, go to different types of events, go to local events, meet people in the city or wherever you are, just to get an idea for who’s around, who can help, what different support is available.
And get out to events with people from the industry that you’re selling into, to find out what are people doing, find out what the general trends of that industry and market are, and make connections with really useful people. Networking is for me the most important thing for our startup. When I first started I entered every competition I could find. I was constantly practising my pitching, even going to events where you know there were no prizes, there was nothing kind of recognition wise involved, but getting to practice your pitch at those events, it attracts people to you, and they can talk to you.
I mean my topic is very, people are surprised when you talk about periods especially at a business breakfast with, kind of, a lot of men in their sixties. People are always surprised but it really changes people’s opinions and brings people that you wouldn’t expect together into your organisation. So a lot of my advisers are men in their sixties, and yes I’ve met all of those advisers through networking things. And it’s hard work, I think, networking is hard, you have to really put yourself out there and people think I’m quite a loud person, so it must be very easy for me. I don’t find it easy because you’re having to sell yourself and that’s what networking is about.
So it is hard and it’s a skill and you just have to keep throwing yourself in at the deep end. So, I think networks are critically important for getting an idea off the ground. Getting that kind of idea generation, getting the challenge, getting the support, whatever it may be. And you know, for me, they’ve been the difference between not doing something and doing something, right the way through. And that’s networks from, you know, friendship networks from university where I’ve kept in touch with people to more professional networks from people I used to work with at Deloitte, to others I’ve met in the startup world; it’s critically important.
Yeah, you get the initial questioning of your own ideas, you know, am I wasting my time? But I think it’s a useful exercise to have, to collect different opinions on one topic and the people who doubt you can often be some of the most useful feedback. They don’t think it’s going to work because of ‘X’, and then you can look at the feedback overall, digest it, OK these people to think it’s going to work because of this, how do I solve that problem? If I have a route to solve that problem or mitigate it then it’s good to go. Yeah, we’ve always tried to tell anyone and everyone about what we’re doing.
Because it’s interesting, you never know when someone might, often they say ‘oh, actually I know this person’. So even if you were speaking to someone that doesn’t seem like they might support you, often they’ll know someone. So that’s happened a lot just through, you know, friendship groups, or family who might support you and I think also through talking about what you’re doing it, it helps you be better at talking about it. I think when I said earlier I never really saw myself as like a wheeler dealer hustler type, but what’s interesting is that with Balloon I’ve had to become a sales person.
Like, I think the most important thing that you do when you found an organisation is sell and that might not be trying to sell for money but you’re always pitching an idea and trying to convince people that that what you’re doing is good and is right.

Before we start looking at your networks, let’s go back to the Bristol Case Studies to ask them how they used their networks to develop their ideas, and why they think networks are important.

While you watch, consider the following questions and take your answers to the discussion board:

  • Is it important to talk about your ideas?

  • How important are networks for getting started and gaining momentum?

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