I can’t resist: I have to tell you about another entrepreneur who, to her surprise, has found networking and lifelong learning enriching and even essential.
Sharon Ng doesn’t know where to start when she recounts the benefits of networking, going back to “school,” and listening to people she thought had nothing to offer her. She had, after all, developed a unique and effective way of teaching Mandarin, French, and Spanish to children. Who could help her with that niche business?
“I went in thinking ‘How could someone who runs a jewelry business or a catering company help me? What would we have in common?’ Ng says. “We had everything in common! It was transformative!”
Ng is referring to her participation in the 4-week FastTrac GrowthVenture course, sponsored by the Levin Institute, NYC Business Solutions, Kauffman: The Foundation of Entrepreneurship, and the Deluxe Corp Foundation. I co-facilitated, with Derrick Webster, Ng’s 26-member FastTrac group.
The experience transformed her business plan, gave her useful connections, and gave her a way to train her teachers. Networking isn’t about homogeneity; it’s about diverse viewpoints giving birth to new ideas. Even the speaker from a nonprofit helped, which amazed Ng.
The first truism she recognized: If you are going down the wrong path, even if you are far down that path, it is better to turn around. It was an “aha” moment, which has led her re-evaluate the way she offers her language classes for children as well how she organizes her business. She’ll be taking her proprietary language courses, Lango, in new directions.
The value of the experience – networking with other entrepreneurs – forced her to look at other ways of doing things. She has:
- gotten rid of her landline (tech advice from a fellow student),
- is applying for training grants from New York City Business Solutions (from a speaker in the class),
- is both taking more financial classes and outsourcing some of her bookkeeping;
- taken on a business partner who complements her strengths,
- entered a business plan competition that could net her $100,000 in prize money (with a plan refined through help from her classmates),
- changed her business plan to include franchising,
- won a “60-second-pitch” contest at a conference that netted her media coverage (with a pitch she perfected with the help of her classmates),
- came up with new ways to market her brand (based on the presentation by an event planner in the group),
- realized the urgency of getting into social media (the presentation of another classmate),
- got a tagline for her business from another member of the group.
More important than ways to develop her business are the ways Ng has learned to develop herself as an entrepreneur. When I described my long-time coaching partnership, Ng had another “aha” moment. She found someone who will brainstorm with her, coach her, and keep her on track.
It’s the richness of the networking experience that boggles her mind. She is more connected and has a sense of the questions she should be asking. Such a group is “a safe space to dish out the good, the bad and the ugly of having your own business,” she said, so she started a networking group, focused on “mompreneurs” who have businesses aimed toward children.
“Everyone shares information,” she said. “That’s why people go to MBA school but this isn’t theory (like an MBA.) This is living, breathing, in-the-war-zone, what’s working and not working.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
What resources do you use to keep your ideas fresh and your business growing? Have you belonged to a networking group? Did it help you?