Talk to Everybody
If there was one piece of advice I could give to all entrepreneurs, it would be this: Talk to everybody. Someone once gave me this same advice, and while I thought it was a good piece of advice, I had no idea what that looked like, or what it could mean for my business. Then, as sometimes happens, another entrepreneur repeated the same advice, but said it in a way that really clicked for me.
As a Babson WIN Lab member I had the opportunity to visit Nataly Kogan at Happier HQ in Boston where she encouraged us to not only talk to everybody, but to use those interactions as a way to access valuable resources. For example, if you’re at a networking event, or a social party, and someone asks you what you do, you often will give a 20 second elevator pitch. If that person is receptive, and you continue talking about your business, you can take that opportunity to mention any current challenge you’re facing, regardless of if you think that person can help you or not. What I’ve found is that strangers often can help me, and, not only that, they want to. If they can’t directly help, I’ve often found that they know someone to refer me to and getting an in-network referral can mean the difference of getting a face-to-face meeting with someone or not.
Here are specific examples of when I have used this idea and incorporated an ask with strangers and had success:
- Finding investors: Often when I talk about my business, people ask me what stage the business is in. I’ll recap some milestones I’ve hit and mention that I’m raising money to achieve next steps. Then I’ll briefly mention how much money I’m raising, what it will be used for, and what type of investors I’m looking for. Often at this point, (without any prompting) people will freely offer a personal connection or suggestion of where to look for an investor. If the person doesn’t have any connections off the top of their head, I’ll often give them my card and ask them to reach out if they think of any ideas. I’ve had several people follow through, even months later.
- Finding interns and/or employees: Often it will come up in conversation that I work alone. People are always surprised to hear this, and that’s when I mention what type of help I’m looking for, and in what time frame. More often than not, someone will know of a potential good fit from within their own network.
- Finding qualified vendors/suppliers: I rely a lot on my established network for referrals for vendors, but it never hurts to expand the search to a larger network. Sometimes I’ll mention a specific project or challenge I’m facing and ask if this person knows of any good web developers, designers, or food scientists, depending on my need. Even people who work in completely different industries often know of someone who can help you, regardless of how unique the challenge is.
I think if you try the “talk to everybody” approach, you’ll find it’s not too hard to casually crowdsource resources in conversations. You never know the connections a person may have. One thing that has surprised me in starting my own business is how much people genuinely want to help entrepreneurs. I hope you’ll at least try talking to everybody, and present them with a challenge and see what they have to say. I also hope you are pleasantly surprised by how much help you’ll get! You never know when someone might be able to make a valuable connection for you or offer their own services free of charge. It’s always good to bring up what you need to plant a seed for potential connections (or customers). Talk to everybody: The barista at Starbucks, the suit and tie in the corner at the networking event, and even your own mother, but also be sure to tell them what you need!