Future Space Guest Blog: Jack Thompson, Founder of Ginkgo Business Development
Jack joined the advisory_space programme earlier this year as our virtual in-residence Business Development and Sales specialist, providing expert advice and support to the Future Space community. We asked Jack why having a good network is so important for businesses.
When I ask B2B companies where their best leads come from the top answers will always be somehow related to their network; whether from existing or previous clients, or some kind of strategic partnership.
In the last 12 months the value brought from having a good network has never been more important, and having worked with many of the regional accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces that feeling of community and the interdependence of the businesses
which is created is always one of the top benefits stated by the resident companies. Of course working from home restrictions have reduced the in-person connections made in the less formal networking opportunities that shared work spaces allow for, but all of the
organisations which I work with, including Future Space, have stepped up to provide virtual alternatives to help maintain that feeling of community.
"If you’re reading this, and you run your own business, but you’re not currently formerly involved in a professional network of similar businesses, I implore you to add this to your goals for 2021. It could be another challenging year, and being part of a community makes it so much easier to deal with."
When the Future Space virtual advisory_space programme was launched last year I jumped at the chance to get involved - knowing how important external support is for early stage businesses - often run by small teams, if not solo founders, with deep experience in their field, but with gaps in their business knowledge which in the early stages cannot be easily filled by hiring people or engaging with often expensive professional services firms and consultants.
One of the common things I hear back from founders is that ‘it’s just good to have someone else to bounce ideas off’. Mentoring for me is mostly not about providing direct advice (although that does happen), more often than not it’s just providing a safe space for founders to chat through their issues and come to their own conclusions. Founders ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ simply because they have not faced some of the problems that running your own business throws up - so being involved in a community such
as Future Space provides a cohort of other founders in a similar stage, who as a collective can usually solve each others problems, or know someone who can, or can be introduced to someone who can via things like the advisory_space programme.
“The value brought from having a good network has never been more important”
When my wife and I became pregnant we went to NCT classes, and I’m very glad we did, with friends made there which will last a lifetime. I’ve often equated a good start-up community with NCT classes, but for your business - it doesn’t give you all the answers, but simply knowing that you’re not alone, and that you have other founders you can call on when times are tough is hugely valuable in it’s own right. Not to mention the inevitable strategic partnerships which can directly benefit your business.
Knowing the importance of partnerships I offered a workshop session for resident Future Space companies on the subject, looking at a variety of tactics to build a network, and in turn to generate leads. Lots to unpack, and too much to include in this blog post, but in summary for B2B companies there are four pillars of new business lead gen which include clients referrals, partner referrals, events, and marketing.
The ‘referrals’ within this mix can account for 50% of total new business revenue, and I’m sure if you’re involved in sales for a B2B organisation and did some analysis of your lead sources you would find the same to be true for your own company, or in that kind of range anyway.
As much as it counts when it comes to recommendations on a tradesman, or a garage for your car, or a restaurant, it does for high value professional services and technology too. Referrals carry weight, they say something about the referrer as well as the referee, and
they tend to convert at a higher rate than cold leads as the levels of trust between the parties is already high on 1st contact. Trust is an important word when it comes to B2B buying decisions, and referrals come with implied trust built in.
So although a comprehensive business development strategy should include activities which generate leads from all four sources, in many cases referrals are something which are often allowed to ‘just happen’ and therefore often an area where improvements can be made.
It’s also the most likely source of ‘short term’ leads as if you can generate some referrals from your network they should convert quicker than those you generate from cold outbound activity, or those that come to your organically. I therefore recommend a 6 step process of building out a partnership strategy:
- Audit current partnerships to identify potential value exchange
- Formalise agreements with existing partners where relevant
- Create a mind map of other businesses ‘fishing in the same pond’ as you
- Approach potential new partners with a clear value proposition (ideally based on the existing partner relationships which you have formalised)
- Nurture the relationships
- Remunerate partners accordingly and where relevant
For those of you who are looking to grow your network, and/or are going into an industry where your professional network is limited, you might add in networking and public speaking to the mix, i.e. people you meet through these events become part of your network, and in time become referring partners, or indeed direct clients.
Again the term ‘fishing in the same pond’ is relevant here - make sure that your networking is strategic and that you're in the ‘right room’. As I said before the great thing about organisations like Future Space is that they come with this kind of network baked in, it’s one of the main benefits for getting involved.
So if you’re reading this, and you run your own business, but you’re not currently formerly involved in a professional network of similar businesses, I implore you to add this to your goals for 2021. It could be another challenging year, and being part of a community makes it so much easier to deal with.
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