One of the keys to the success of your business is the economic vitality of the market it operates in, whether that is defined by geography (for example, the Atlanta metro area), industry (home improvement), culture (hip-hop) or demographic (new mothers). The better the businesses in proximity and/or related to yours are doing, the more likely it is that there are people and companies with the financial resources to spend money with you. All things being equal, the best thing to do to improve the number and quality of prospects for your business is to help those around you to grow theirs. In fact, smart entrepreneurs go out of their way to help enrich those around them. Who wants to serve a market full of cash-strapped customers and struggling businesses?
This principle is at the foundation of why our Chairman and Publisher Earl Graves Sr. founded Black Enterprise in the first place more than four decades ago. We exist to help you build wealth in your businesses, careers and personal finances, in order to increase your value as an audience to advertisers, from whom we derive the lions share of our company’s revenues. Simply put, if you don’t prosper, we can’t either. And the reality is, as spelled out in Gary Vaynerchuk’s book The Thank You Economy, that’s true for all businesses and their customers—including yours.
Events that bring entrepreneurs together such as the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference present a great chance for you to practice not just looking for business opportunities for yourself, but creating them for others, thus increasing the value of your business as well as your personal brand. In fact, the most valuable element of the conference is that it may be the only time of the year you get to spend two, concentrated days with entrepreneurs—more than 1,000 people who think just like you do, who understand where you are because they’re there, or have been there, too. To establish yourself as a valuable asset them, and thus strengthen your own prospects, here are 7 key ways to create business opportunities at the Entrepreneurs Conference:
- Spend money with them.
Just remember the unofficial motto of the Entrepreneurs Conference: “We didn’t come here to just talk about business. We’re here to do business!” If you like or need what they are selling, the price is competitive and the quality is good, why not spend money? Everyone who knows me knows how much I hate hook-ups. The best way to support other entrepreneurs in your network is not to expect them to provide free products and services, but to actually purchase from them. If they choose to give you a “friends and family” discount or an occasional freebie, okay. But their businesses need sales growth, positive cash flow and profits to thrive, just like yours does.
- Endorse their products and services.
If you are connected on LinkedIn, post a recommendation to their profile. If you have a positive customer experience, share it with your contacts in every way you can, including via e-mail, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook and, of course, by word of mouth. Send them customers every chance you get. Of course, it’s hard to make a referral if you haven’t been a customer yourself (see previous tip).
- If you can’t get a contract, pass it on.
We come across business opportunities all the time that we are denied or choose not to pursue. Often, we know of another business that would have a shot at that opportunity or would want to pursue it. All they need is for us to tell them about it, and share any information we might have that could give them the edge. The next best thing to you getting the business is someone you know getting it—with them knowing that they have you to thank for it.
- Share intelligence.
Information is valuable currency, but like all other forms of wealth, it is of no worth if it is hoarded. So if, for example, you discover that a major corporation is looking to expand its pool of minority vendors, what’s the point of keeping it to yourself? You’ll increase your value in the eyes of both the corporation and your fellow vendors and aspiring suppliers as the source of information that helps everybody achieve their goals. That will bring a much bigger payoff than the contract you may or may not land if you keep the information to yourself.
- Actively recruit new business owners into the fold.
This is especially vital for younger entrepreneurs in need of support and guidance. Help them to make the connections and find the customers they’ll need to thrive. The promising young business owner you help today could be your most loyal—and biggest—customer tomorrow.
- Recycle business cards.
No, I don’t mean putting them into the recycling bin (although that’s not a bad idea, once you’ve entered card info into your contacts on your smartphone or tablet). Before tossing out the ones that seem to have no value to you, consider whether you’ve met others who could benefit from those contacts. For example, you may not be in the market for a public relations consultant, but you may have met someone at this morning’s networking breakfast who is. Pass on the contact info for that great PR maven you just met, but can’t hire.
- Play matchmaker.
Don’t just network for yourself. Go out of your way to connect people with others. In other words, in addition to looking out for your own interests, listen out for what those around you are looking for. Everybody at the conference has a piece of the puzzle. The more people are able to connect with others with pieces that match theirs, the greater the return on investment for attending will be for everybody. So go out of your way to make introductions, both at the conference and after, including via social media.
Now, I’m not suggesting you do all of these things for everyone you meet. You have not only the right to be selective about which entrepreneurs to embrace and support, you have the obligation. After all, if you recommend a business that cuts corners on quality or has surly customer service, that reflects poorly only you and your brand. And you certainly shouldn’t spend money or do business with anyone who does not give you your money’s worth for any reason. Go out of your way to find entrepreneurs of the highest professional caliber, running quality businesses that you can proudly endorse and patronize without hesitation. (And by all means, be sure you are that kind of business owner, with a company of like quality.) Once you’ve found fellow entrepreneurs who meet or exceed that standard, do everything you can to help them to succeed. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much goodwill and support you can generate once you establish yourself as a goose who delivers golden eggs for others.
Not everyone whose back you scratch will be able—or even willing—to scratch yours. Don’t worry about that; that’s not the point. It’s not about quid pro quo. It’s about creating a network of successful businesses to be a part of. Your association with that network alone will create a healthy environment for your own business, assuming that it is truly viable, to grow. Your goal is not to obligate others to do things for you. It’s to be recognized as a key contributor to the success of the entire network. (When it’s done right, that’s what social media is all about.) Once that happens, others will want you to succeed, too. At least the smart ones will. After all, it will be in their own best interest.
Remember, a market can’t be fertile for you and a desert for everyone else. Be known for helping others to thrive, and your own venture will be more fruitful. By going out of your way to sow seeds of opportunity for the others, you could reap a rich harvest that will sustain your business long after the event ends.
And if you have other ideas you’ve practiced to help other business owners in your network to succeed, please share them in the comments section below.
Join more than 1,000 outstanding entrepreneurs and top business experts at the 2013 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo hosted by Nationwide, May 14-17 in Columbus, Ohio. Expect innovative sessions, high-powered speakers, and an early peek at the products, trends, and services you’ll need to stay ahead of the curve. Be sure to enter our Elevator Pitch Competition to qualify for the $10,000 grand prize. To register and find out more, follow the hash tag #BEEC2014 on Twitter and visit www.blackenterprise.com/ec!