- Step 1: Develop a fab business idea. (MOD. TO MEASURE – check.)
- Step 2: Spend months conducting “market research” and reading countless business books/articles. (Survey Monkey and entrepreneur.com – check.)
- Step 3: Make loads of stupid and costly mistakes in the hope of achieving Step 1. (There are PLENTY more posts where that came from.)
- Step 4: Finding someone somewhere who can somehow guide me along the way.
So here I am on Step 4, having had a failed attempt of finding a mentor of sorts, but that’s another story.
I may not have mentioned that I am currently a student at a Russell Group university coming to the end of an unfulfilling degree, so at the start of this year I found myself questioning my life purpose after I graduate. The investment banking dream had faded to darkness and I didn’t know whether I could possibly be an entrepreneur with no funds. Enter: God.
While perusing various start-up websites, I came across the New Entrepreneurs Foundation programme which was a dream come true. In short, the programme offers a paid job with a start-up, mentorship, business coaching and workshops i.e. the answer to all my problems. Thankfully, I got on the programme ! However, the process isn’t over; I have to find a start-up to work for. To make our lives infinitely easier, the good folks at NEF arranged a matchmaking event to meet the start-ups that they work with.
Matchmaking night was crazy. For me, it involved a 230-mile round trip in a night which was, understandably, exhausting. Around 50 NEFers and around 30 reps from host companies were squashed into a small room with hors-d’oeuvres and wine with an hour to make a connection. Early in the evening, I came across two people from my assessment centre which brings me on to lesson #2.
Try to build a rapport with anyone and everyone you can. Networking is an essential skill.
Partnering with a host company was based upon the assumption that it is possible to build a connection with a person or company in a very short space of time. Having developed a friendly relationship with my competitors at the assessment centre, I was immediately at ease in a foreign environment. The event was a complete free for all which involved awkwardly looking up people’s shirts to see who they were and which businesses they represented. I was fairly open about what I was looking for in a host company. A B2B company (Business-to-Business meaning customers/clients are other businesses) would provide me with a rounded view of various business types, from start-ups to MNCs (multinational corporations). It would also allow me to network with individuals within my industry and elsewhere. However, a placement at an early stage start-up with few team members would nurture my problem-solving skills and prevent me from making the same mistakes within my own businesses.
I mentioned that starting MOD. TO MEASURE has not been a straightforward journey. I’ve had to become a jack-of-all-trades learning countless skills from graphic design and code to basic pattern cutting and garment manufacture. This has taught me that no skill is too difficult to apply yourself to. Everyone was a beginner once. From a business perspective, it is important to note that it may be more time efficient (thus more cost effective) to outsource skills, particularly in business functions that are not your areas of expertise such as SEO and design. Key tools to facilitate this (particularly for very early-stage businesses) are People Per Hour and Fiverr. The main pitfall of attempting to do it all yourself is you do not have the time to focus on what matters the most: your customers.
Networking isn’t just about increasing your LinkedIn connections and asking for introductions.
Networking should be mutually beneficial. What do you have to offer as an early stage entrepreneur/student/businessperson? Curiosity. A listening ear. Enthusiasm. You may be young, you may lack experience, but your ideas are not useless just because you are at the beginning of your journey. Even the most seasoned professionals need a fresh pair of eyes. The idea of leaving a lasting impression despite being young and inexperienced hit home when I was meeting host companies who actually remembered my profile out of 50 other NEFers (and everything from MOD. to my disillusionment with higher education ). It was a major confidence boost and made me feel like I was onto something special with MOD.
However, even more rewarding was connecting with other NEFers who were really cool people. I must admit, I was apprehensive about whether I would find anyone like me (Black, female, outspoken) but the room was far more… “diverse” (I hate that word) than I could have imagined. It’s great that I will have the opportunity to work with people who are passionate about business, particularly in Black communities, but it’s important to note that you will not always be around people like you. Adaptability is key because, like it or not, we live in a world with people from all kinds of backgrounds with various mindsets. Some of the people you work with may not be your cup of tea, but professionalism is essential. After the event, it’s now a case of matching up with the various host companies over the next few months, an exciting but daunting process. I’ll keep you updated.
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