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Networks pictures: Why and what?

Tamara Oukes: The core of managing business relationships is networking. How to initiate, develop and maintain your business relationships .
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As an entrepreneur, you try to do everything on your own. Your independent mindset makes you believe that you have to recognise, develop, and exploit opportunities by yourself. Yet you are not a superhero. There is nobody in this world who can do everything by themselves. You simply cannot exploit an opportunity in isolation. You have to collaborate with other people, businesses, and organisations in order to fly. However, many entrepreneurs don’t recognise this. In turn, they exploit opportunities well below their potential. Thus the quicker you come to realise that collaboration is a necessity, the better your entrepreneurial journey will go. Yet this raises the question, how can you initiate, develop, and retain business relationships effectively? The core of managing business relationships is networking.
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Networking is an activity by which entrepreneurs and business people meet to form business relationships, to recognise, develop and exploit opportunities, share information, and seek potential new business partners. You are, like most entrepreneurs and the girl in this picture, probably not intentional when it comes to networking, because you think that networking is mostly a waste of time or that you don’t have the talent to network or that networking is self surfing or selfish or anything alike. The problem with this way of thinking is that it produces networks that can never give you the breadth and diversity of relationships you need, to understand your industry, to make good decisions, to convince others of your ideas, to learn new things, and so on.
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In other words, they’re all misconceptions that limit you in managing your relationships successfully. Therefore, your need to act deliberately to initiate, develop, and maintain your business relationships effectively. To this end, you first must learn to visualise your network, and you can do so with a so-called network picture. If you draw a network picture for your startup, you can start with a company in the middle. After that, you list all people, businesses, and organisations, such as customers, suppliers, universities that are relevant to you. Then you draw lines between them and your startup. Now you see an example of how a network picture may look like. However, you probably think that your own network picture would look completely different.
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You’ll develop an idea about how your network looks like, based on your own experiences. As everyone has different experiences, your network picture is very personal.
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Your network picture is also dynamic, because your network changes. You may start new business relationships or end existing ones. As a result, you adapt your network picture continually. Further, it’s not possible for you to see all the links between your startup and the network you do business in. Therefore, your network picture is always incomplete. In conclusion, a network picture is a personal, incomplete, and dynamic visualisation of your network, which supports you in initiating, developing, and maintaining your business relationships intentionally and effectively.

Research has shown that entrepreneurs are more successful if the collaborate with other people, businesses and organizations.

Entrepreneurs need to use their network of personal, business and organizational contacts to acquire resources and information that they do not possess and cannot buy. Yet they often lack the willingness or required knowledge as well as collaborative experience to network intentionally and effectively (Witt, 2004). Therefore, we explain in this video the importance of networking and introduce you to a tool – the network picture – that supports you in networking purposefully and successfully.

Our experience with using this tool in entrepreneurial education is that entrepreneurs get more insight into their network’s size and diversity as well as the strength of and dependence on their business relationships. In turn, they are better able to decide whether they should seek new partners, terminate existing relationships or invest more (or less) time and effort in a certain partner.

In the following steps you will work on:

  1. Creating a picture of your network
  2. Improving your (picture of a) network
  3. Sharing your improved network picture

Reference

Witt, P. (2004). Entrepreneurs’ networks and the success of start-ups. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 16(5), 391-412.

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