I’m sure we all have our different strengths (whether we know what they are yet). Some of us are good at fundraising while others are superstars at coding. We all have that one thing that at which we excel, but did you know there is one thing at which all women are naturally good? It’s building relationships. Maybe that’s not such a big secret — Forbes has said it for years, HuffPost has said it, and I’m sure many other reputable media sources have said the same thing. So, I’m sure you’ve heard it at least once. You just didn’t give it much thought. Your thought process probably went something like this, “Yea, I know that. Just another way we differ from men. Next topic.” Don’t do that. Don’t brush off this little fact so quickly, because there is power in building relationships. Here is how you can harness that power to help you in each of the 7 stages of your entrepreneurial journey.
Note: These 7 stages come from the Global Entrepreneurship Institute. They are the “Trusted Source for Educating and Supporting Entrepreneurs.”
Stage 1. Opportunity Recognition
What it includes: Understanding the opportunity and determining if you’re ready to pursue it.
How relationships can help: My dad always says “The eye see-ith not itself.” That means that you can’t always evaluate yourself because you have a natural bias (whether positive or negative), so look to your relationships for insight. Ask people you have a connection with to honestly describe who you are and if they think you can be an entrepreneur. Ultimately, pursuing the opportunity will be your decision regardless of what they tell you, but at least you will have a better idea of how to proceed.
Stage 2. Opportunity Focusing
What it includes: At this stage, you should be narrowing down your business idea.
How relationships can help: Call on the viewpoints of people you trust; particularly those in fields related to your business idea. We all analyze situations and come to conclusions differently. Collaboration sparks new and better ideas. You may even find a business partner or your first employee!
Stage 3. Commitment of Resources
What it includes: The biggest investment at this stage is time. The time it takes to strategize and put together a business plan, multiplied by the time and money it takes to actually follow that plan.
How relationships can help: Time is a hot commodity, and a business plan is a big job…one that many entrepreneurs overlook then end up having to go back to later. The connections you have may help you with the actual writing, assembly, and follow through. But, it is more likely that they will be able to refer you to the people who can. Use this business plan checklist to help you with the business plan writing and assembly process. Your connections can also help you on a moral and emotional level. There will be days that you want to quit. Days that you’re just plain unmotivated. Those relationships you’ve built will help you get through it. Your network will encourage you.
Stage 4. Market Entry
What it includes: The Global Entrepreneurship Institute said it best: “Profitability and success define the market entry stage. The entrepreneur is committed with a very simple organization, the resources were correctly allocated according to the business plan, and the first sales were made. This is what defines success in the very early stages. If the business model was profitable, reasonable objectives were met, and the venture is on track for attaining true economic health, then the entrepreneur can choose between a capital infusion for growth or remaining small with self-financing (bootstrapping).”
How relationships can help: If you’ve built good relationships, then your first sales will likely be from those connections. Not only that, they will share your business with others whether on their own accord or if you gave them a little nudge. They will help promote you, and that is HUGE when trying to build a business. Their promotion will open you up to their networks of people you don’t even know. If you’ve ever experienced this, then you know that it’s truly a great feeling…an entrepreneur’s high.
Stage 5. Full Launch and Growth
What it includes: At this point, it’s time to decide your next step. Will you plan for high growth to expand into a big company? Or do you want to stay small? Staying small is okay, too, because not every company can or will become big.
How relationships can help: It’s hard to pinpoint just one way your connections can help here because this is a stage of many opportunities. So, it will depend on what you decide. A mentor can be a huge help to bounce ideas. Maybe a connection you have knows someone who has been in this position before, and they can connect you. Whatever you decide, look at your network for people related to your decision. For example, you decide you want some commercial space. Someone you know may be a realtor or know someone looking to sublet some space. There are many different ways people you know can help. It just depends on where you want to go from here and what you need to get there.
Stage 6. Maturity and Expansion
What it includes: This stage is essentially your high point. You’ve got processes down, you’re in demand, and business is booming.
How relationships can help: You would think your network couldn’t help with anything here because everything’s good and you have no worries. Wait. What am I saying? You’re an entrepreneur, and most entrepreneurs are on a constant quest to improve and discover new opportunities. If that’s the case here, then your network can help much like they did in Stages 1 and 2 — provide an outside perspective and a viewpoint different from your own. Some good starter questions you can ask are: What else can I do? What can I do better…or differently?
Stage 7. Liquidity Event
What it includes: Most entrepreneurs don’t get to this stage. This stage is about exiting the business you created. Liquefying the business could be for both positive and negative reasons — you’re declaring bankruptcy, you’re being acquired by another company, going public, or maybe you’re just plain ‘ol selling your company for a lump sum.
How relationships can help: This is uncharted territory for most people so, in addition to reading up on it, you’ll want help to form your network in a similar way you sought help in stage 5. You want to find someone who has been in this position before.
Not every entrepreneur will make it through every stage, but not everyone needs to or wants to. How far you want to go is up to you. Just remember that relationships matter. People do business with people they know, like, and trust, and there is no better way to establish those feelings than to build genuine relationships. Women are naturally good at that, so let’s pull out that secret weapon at all stages and use it to our advantage — supporting each other to business success because when one of us wins, we all win.