Like most entrepreneurs, 31-year-old Jonathan Pfahl has always been something of an outsider. As Sir Bob Geldof, keynote speaker at a recent Rockstar Business Incubator put it, ‘Entrepreneurs do not think outside of the box, they don’t fit into the box’. The Australian founder of The Rockstar Group is no exception to that rule
Jonathan left Australia, aged just 22, to seek his fortune in London’s property market. Quickly realising that it was not what you know but who you know, he turned to a mentoring organisation for guidance. Though he could not have known it at the time, the experience of using a paid mentor was to be the start of his own journey in mentoring.
Fast forward to 2014, and The Rockstar Group are the UK’s leading mentoring organisation and delivery partner for the Government’s Start-Up Loan initiative, which equips would-be entrepreneurs with up to £10,000 funding and free mentoring. The group has over sixty mentors who guide their mentees to business success.
The sheer calibre of their business experience differentiates the Rockstar Group from other mentoring organisations. Rockstar have supported over 11,000 fledgling entrepreneurs to start or grow an existing business, but it hasn’t been plain sailing. The recession hit the group hard and in 2009 Jonathan was forced to sell his properties to keep the business afloat.
‘The secret of my success is my ability to adapt the model according to market changes. The recession meant that demand for our premium mentoring products decreased, but the launch of different products for different areas of the market is what kept us going. Flexibility is so important.’
The Rockstar Group’s ethos is to make running a business a reality for anyone that has the commitment, passion and work ethic to see it through.
‘Whether you’re about to start your business, or you’ve been in business for a few years, one thing never changes…you are required to make numerous decisions on a daily basis that affect your revenue, stress levels, and overall success or failure. What’s vital to your short and long-term sustainability is that you receive the right advice at the right time of your business…Even the most established and successful entrepreneurs seek guidance from more experienced mentors. Richard Branson typically has five mentors at any one time,’ says Pfahl.
Here Rockstar Group mentor Marc Winn – who specialises in turning already successful entrepreneurs into incredible ones by working on passions, performance and whole-life vision – offers four tips on how to build and leverage an effective network:
1. Acquire your network
Go where the ‘right’ people go, and play the long game. If you’ll need funding, network with funders. If you need partners, network with potential partners. Always be developing relationships with the sort of people you’ll need in the future, to get you to where you want to go. When the time comes, you’ll be able to pick up the phone and make it happen.
It is said that ‘You are whoever you spend the most time with’. Look around at your current social network or business colleagues. Spend time developing relationships with the type of people you want to become.
Whether at events or one-to-one, connect with everyone you meet: take their cards and add them to your contact lists and networks. Keep connected through the social networks they maintain. It’s important to proactively meet people who will move you towards your long-term goals.
I photograph every business card I receive and connect with my new contact through as many networks as I can. In the B2B context I find LinkedIn to be the most valuable of all networks.
Target key connectors – people with strong personal networks – in any industry, and build strong relationships with them. Leverage their networks, as well as your own.
2. Convert your network
Make an impression (preferably a great one!) when you first meet someone. It sets the stage for your future relationship. Be interesting and memorable to everyone you meet. Nobody remembers average, so be remarkable. Develop an authentic personal brand that is consistent and easy for people to remember.
Sell the whole package, and make an effort in the whole interaction, from the presentation of your business card, to how you dress, to how you talk and always follow up!
Be really clear about what it is you do, and why. A clouded message is never good. Practise an ‘elevator pitch’ that explains what you do within a few seconds. The simpler and more interesting your proposition, the easier it is to be remembered for it.
Always follow up with everyone you meet. Whether by e-mail, telephone call, or in person, make it personal by reinforcing every interaction.
3. Retain your network
Most relationships wither without regular contact or reinforcement, so continuously develop relationships with everyone you’ve met. Develop strong ties that count – with key players who are likely to help you towards your long-term goals.
This can be very labour-intensive, so try to maintain contact without high social overhead. Look for people with huge personal networks or who inspire you. Prioritise people who are really going to make a difference in the long term.
Don’t underestimate the value of ‘weak ties’ – the people you don’t know well (if at all). The ‘6 degrees of separation’ that connect us is actually getting smaller all the time. There’s huge combined wisdom, connections and opportunities in your network at every level.
For instance, if you make a sales call to someone with whom you share a personal connection, you’re five times more likely to get through. Relationships count, and weak ties deliver considerable opportunities with a fraction of the social overhead.
Develop ways of efficiently communicating with your wider network. Use pseudo-marketing strategies to maintain and develop weaker ties. It’s never been easier to do this. I use a weekly blog post, an e-mail programme and social media to maintain consistent contact with everyone I’ve met, as well as developing an increasing following of people I’ve never met at all. I use that strategy to help people en masse through one or two postings, at the same time reminding many people of what I do.
4. Leverage your network
When you offer your assistance to others, or ‘pay it forward’, the future returns will surprise you. Stay in touch with your network to know how to help them, and understand how they can help you. Whenever you need help, ask. Someone always knows someone who can give you anything – from a restaurant recommendation in a strange land, to an introduction to a decision-maker for the deal of the century. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
To qualify for the Start-Up Loans Programme with Rockstar you must be over 18, live in England, have a business idea or a business that has been trading for twelve months or less.
See www.Rockstarstartuploans.co.uk for more information.