Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs. Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage. As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?) to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.
Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following
You’re out in the community meeting people, reading and learning…now it’s time to establish a reputation and build a following. Here’s how.
1) Understand Ideas are Free
It’s easy to get in the mindset that someone will steal your idea and that you’re giving away something of value by talking to others about their ideas. This is completely the wrong mindset. Sharing ideas is exactly what you want to do. It has an incredible amount of benefits:
A) It gets your ideas out of your head and refined by others. As the CEO of Zipcar said, “every person you meet is a free consultant.”
B) Everyone in the community wants to help each other. If they can’t directly help you, they are more than happy to connect you with someone they know that can help. They can’t help you if they don’t know what your ideas are.
C) It builds credibility. People recognize and remember those that share good ideas and ask good questions.
In the end, ideas are like a boomerang; the more you share your thoughts with others, they more they’ll share theirs with you. No one will steal your idea, because they’re already working on what they’re passionate about and your passion will always trump someone who is just copying you.
2) Actions Speak Louder…
As a young entrepreneur, you have to build your reputation from scratch. This means that everything you do makes a small contribution to how people judge you. The best way to build this reputation is through consistently displaying the qualities people look for. Are you eager to learn? Do you ask questions and share ideas? Do you follow through on everything you say you’ll do? Do you help others? Are you honest? If you under-promise and over-deliver, you will always impress people. Pay it forward and you’ll be amazed at what others will do for you.
3) Use Twitter
It’s great to be up to date on your industries of interest and the trends and topics of the day for entrepreneurs, but to really make a contribution and get involved, you need to be an active part of the conversation. The easiest way to do this is with Twitter.
You should already be on twitter, seeing what events are being shared as well as articles and ideas. You can do the same thing. If you like something someone already shared, give it a retweet. If you read something really interesting, make a comment about it and link to it in a tweet. If you have a question for the community, ask it. You never know who might see it.
Also, in addition to connecting with people on linkedin, follow those people and others you see in the community on twitter. They’ll usually follow you back, which leads to an audience that will notice what you have to say.
4) Start a Blog
If you have more to say than 140 characters allows, you should consider starting a blog. It’s a great way to share your thoughts, questions and ideas on an issue or just share an experience you had. It also works great with Twitter as you can tweet your entry and if people like it, it will get re-tweeted and more people will read it (and likely start following you).
If you have the passion for writing out your ideas in blog form, then go for it. To truly be effective, you need to blog a few times a week or once a week at absolute minimum. At first that my seem daunting, but in my experience, that’s not as hard as it seems. There are many great ideas out there for what to blog about; just decide what your blog’s focus will be and give it a shot. If you’re passionate about the subject, you’ll find that writing about it will come much more naturally than your last report for school or work.
5) Tie it All Together
By now you should be on Twitter, LinkedIn and maybe even have a blog. You’re also out there at events. This means you’re now part of both the real and virtual conversation. To best utilize them, tie them all together.
LinkedIn gives you the ability to directly feed your blog into your LinkedIn page and to provide up to 3 links to other sites from your profile. These links should be your Twitter profile, your blog and your startup, when you have one. Meanwhile, Twitter allows you to link directly to one site, so you should then tie it to your blog or LinkedIn. Finally, most blogs allow for links, so you should link to your Twitter account, LinkedIn and your company.
By doing this, you create a net. No matter how people find you, they can find out everything about you with just a few clicks. This can be really valuable, as anyone can see what you write about (your blog), what your thoughts are (Twitter) and your background/experience (LinkedIn). This really works. I actually got a job because of my blog; they were able to see my background and interests and out of the blue asked to meet with me.
If you say things that resonate with people, you never know what can happen.
Are you a part of the conversation?
Coming Next Week: Part IV: Working on Your Idea
This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be. Thanks!