Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Tips for Better Networking

“It’s not what you know but who you know that makes the difference.” Anonymous

As an entrepreneur, networking has been an essential part of my journey and growth. However, even if you are not an entrepreneur, networking is something each one of us should be doing at some level. Networking provides us with the opportunity to reach out to individuals from all walks of life with whom we share similar passions or interests. We also meet individuals with whom we have very little in common. Either way, through this interaction we grow as individuals and start to see the world from a multi-faceted view point, rather than just our own. To some of us networking and conversing with strangers is easier than it is for others. However we must all make an effort to put ourselves out there and see what develops. Listed below are a couple of tips which have helped me become a more effective networker:

1. First Impressions: These are formed quickly, we need therefore to be vigilant about how we present ourself, and our attitude and overall body language. When meeting individuals for the first time, take an active interest in what they do, see if there is potentially anything you could do to assist them. It is important that we do not come across as pushy or just wanting to get the other person’s name card and move on. Will we always get the right impression across? Probably not, however, we have to do all we can to make sure that the signals we are sending are well aligned with the impression we want to create. To learn more about creating the right first impression please click here.

2. Business Cards: These are a vital component of effective networking. They have the ability to form a link between two strangers and potentially help that link grow into a mutually beneficial relationship. One needs to pay a lot of attention to the design of business cards and make sure that all the information is legible and well presented. Always carry an ample stock of your business cards and give them out liberally. When exchanging business cards, if required, ask politely for potential referrals. Lastly, business cards are essential, if you are not associated with any company, have personal name cards printed for yourself. To learn more about the importance of business cards please click here.

3. Following Up: This is a critical aspect of effective networking. Exchanging business cards is only the creation of link, it is our responsibility to convert that link into something greater. Three tips for following up more effectively include the 48 hour rule, which is essentially making sure that you follow up with a contact within the specified period to keep the link alive. Secondly, make it a point to follow up in context to the conversation that you had with the individual. Lastly, periodically follow up with individuals on your contact list whom you have had limited contact. To learn about each tip in greater detail please click here.

4. Building Online Networks: Online business networking is skyrocketing these days. With a plethora of websites being added almost daily, one is able to connect to just about anyone from around the world. Three ways to plug into the world on online networking is, joining Linkedin a leading professional networking site, creating a twitter account to connect with people in your niche and lastly, begin blogging to get the attention of your target audience. It is essential for today’s entrepreneurs to be plugged into the online networking cloud. To learn more about each of the services outlined above please click here.

5. Building Offline Networks: I believe developing a strong offline network is just as important as building an online one. Through these activities one is able to connect with a host of individuals around a common point of interest. It also helps bring balance to our busy lives, specially since more often than not our professional lives seem to completely take over. Join groups and events related to the business that you are in, or join social work projects that may be of interest to you or a group to play sports or social games together. These activities help increase your business networks as well as help you grow personally as an individual. To learn more on how to develop offline networks please click here.

Networking effectively, takes a lot of patience and time. We have to work on developing our networks every day by reaching out to people we have connections with as well as adding new connections. There is a need to add value to the people whom you know for those actions to be reciprocated. I would really like to get to know the readers of my blog and find ways we can help each other grow. You can find links to connect with me below.

View Usman Sheikh's profile on LinkedIn

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Building Offline Networks

“More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject.” Peter Drucker

I discussed online networks in some detail yesterday. Today I will cover the importance of developing offline networks. These networks require us to put ourselves out there to find opportunities through which we can grow professionally as well as personally. When I mean offline networks, I am not restricting them to only business mixers or rotary functions. To me, offline networking involves a host of shared activities with individuals who share the same passions and interests as I do. I believe developing a strong offline network is just as important as building an online one. Through these activities one is able to connect with a host of individuals around a common point of interest. It also helps bring balance to our busy lives, specially since more often than not our professional lives seem to completely take over. Some segments to look into to develop offline networks are listed below:

1. Business: Having set up one of the largest network of entrepreneurs in Far East Asia, I have witnessed first hand how effective joining an entrepreneurial club or society can be. The ability and opportunity to actually meet a host of people enables one to create stronger connections a lot faster than developing them online. I recommend entrepreneurs look into entrepreneurial clubs and societies as I believe they can be a most beneficial. Other than this,  keep a look out for networking events in your industry where you have the opportunity to meet a host of different individuals. I was introduced to most of my mentors through such events.

2. Social Work:
If there is a cause which is close to your heart or an organization you think is doing great work, I recommend joining them to see if there is anything you can do to assist them. The entire aspect of social entrepreneurship is an area in which many individuals are doing excellent work to ensure a better tomorrow. Joining such efforts adds breadth to your network and opens up avenues usually unavailable through traditional routes.

3. Sports & Games:
Before my ventures completely absorbed me I used to be a regular cycling enthusiast. Along with a friend, I set up the cycling club at my university and we would cycle regularly over the weekends. It was great to get outdoors and get some exercise, it also helped clear the mind and once again meet some very interesting people. I learned a lot about team work, perseverance and even leadership through this activity. If not a sport, there are a host of other activities such as chess, bridge or poker where one can both network and have a good time.

Developing offline networks is an important aspect of the overall development of one’s personality. Even though at times it feels that there are just too many things to do, don’t let these activities take a backseat, find time for them. I feel having strong offline networks is specially important in Asia since there is greater emphasis on meeting face to face. Thus for an entrepreneur in this region, a balance needs to be formed between online and offline networking activities.

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Business Networking Online

“During the past year, the total North American audience of social networkers has grown 9 percent compared to a much larger 25 percent growth for the world at large. The Middle East-Africa region (up 66 percent), Europe (up 35 percent), and Latin America (up 33 percent) have each grown at well-above average rates.” Comscore

Online business networking is skyrocketing these days. With a plethora of destinations being added almost daily, one is able to connect to just about anyone from around the world. For someone new to online networking it can be a bit intimidating. With all these tools out there, deciding which one to select and build upon can be a tricky decision. Prior to 2008 I used to rely a lot more on offline networks than online ones. This was primarily because I miscalculated the effectiveness of online networks. Ever since I started blogging earlier this year my eyes have truly been opened in discovering the true potential of online networks. Through these networks I have made some great friends, been introduced to some amazing companies, have been referred business and been able to raise funding for some of my projects. Listed below are some of the tools I use:

1. LinkedIn: This is the web’s leading professional networking destination and it is witnessing tremendous growth. I use linkedin primarily to do reference searches due to the nature of my work and have started using it to develop leads for business development. I have even started using it to identify talent to facilitate the recruitment process. I strongly recommend entrepreneurs to join this network as I believe it can greatly facilitate the development of your business. If you would like to connect with me on Linkedin please click on the link found below.

2. Twitter: This is a micro blogging tool which facilitates short communications between individuals, a group of people or the public as a whole. Essentially twitter users, post short messages detailing information in reference to their line of work or life generally. These messages can either be public or private. Other users are given permission to follow the updates of specific individuals, so as to be constantly updated about their activities. As I write this, it seems like a pretty silly concept and that is what I thought at first. However since becoming a more active user I have seen how these updates can be a source of great information, at the same time it gives you potential access to people whom you normally would not br accesing. I suggest joining it and seeing whether it is something which appeals to you or not. With its explosive growth these days, twitter is quickly becoming the destination to be online. To follow me on twitter please click on the badge below.

3. Blogging: When I started this blog I was unaware of how I could use it as a networking tool. However as time went by I was contacted by a host of very interesting individuals from all walks of life. Over the course of these last ten months of blogging I have made a host of close friends through blogging and actively reading other blogs in the same niche. In the world we live in today, blogging is very quickly becoming an instrumental tool through which one can attract like minded individuals. This can be a great source to find potential partners, employees, investors and even mentors. To begin blogging I recommend selecting a niche and then writing relatively regularly to build a following.

The deal with all of the tools I have listed above is that for them to create opportunities we need to work very hard to constantly build upon them. An empty linkedin profile will not attract anyone, twitter without relevant and interesting updates will not create any meaningful interaction and a blog which is not regularly updated will not become a hub of activity. We have to make a commitment to build our profile online, this is not something which is developed overnight. Like the real world one needs to build a reputation which is trusted and eventually become an authority who is constantly being referred to. I would really like to connect with the readers of this blog and see how we can assist each other in either a professional or personal capacity.

View Usman Sheikh's profile on LinkedIn

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5 Steps to Close Your First Sale

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” Malcom Forbes

Closing your first sale is one of the greatest highs you experience in your journey as an entrepreneur. It is a validation of your skills, passion and commitment to achieving something more than just the ordinary in life. There is no doubt that the journey to this milestone is a challenging one, it will test to the max and you will be able to gauge whether you have it in you to actually persevere and reach your goal. Having been through this exercise, I am now part of other teams on this leg of their journey I have put together a list of five concepts which have helped me .

1. Envision it: Before starting this journey, clearly identify where you want to go, how you want to get there and by when. Establish a picture of the entire process to enable you to visualize how you want everything to work. Once you have this image deeply embedded in your subconscious, you are ready to begin your journey. To read more about envisioning the sales process please click here.

2. Be Proactive: To be able to reach any goal in life you have to take action. Without it you will not be able to gather the momentum that is required to close that first deal and then successive deals after that. There is a need to be continuously proactive if you want to have success in any part of your life. If you want to achieve your goals and close that sale, you need to start taking responsibility for your success and action, today. To read tips on becoming more proactive please click here.

3. Ask: If you have hit a point where you are meeting a lot of people, pitching your idea and getting some interest but no sales then you are not asking for the sale correctly. Subconsciously we do not want to be the pushy salesperson . We begin to let this thought influence the sales pitch process and what happens is that the prospect is never really posed the question to buy. You need to start asking for the sale much more proactively to start closing deals. To read more about asking for the sale please click here.

4. Patience: There will be times during this journey where you will get frustrated, irritated and sometimes quite angry because you are unable to hit your targets and goals. This impacts detrimentally on the entire sales process as it decreases productivity, efficiency and your positivity. Having patience during this journey will be critical in your progress, remember, research shows that we usually quit just before we are about to hit something really big. To read more about this critical success factor please click here.

5. Learn from Failures: There is no failure only feedback. When times are tough, patience is low and we face setbacks, an entrepreneur starts to question everything. We begin to start blaming external factors, our team, our product or the economy. However this stance will not change the outcome or increase the probability of your closing the sale. You need to take the failures that you face and convert them into feedback to help you succeed. To read about strategies to convert failures into feedback please click here.

I sincerely believe that by following these steps coupled with hard work, determination and belief in your capabilities you will achieve your goals. We have to stop making excuses for ourselves and playing the blame game. If we truly want to succeed we have to do whatever it takes. Believe in yourself, your product/service and the your ability to successfully sell. No hurdle will be too high and when you finally get there, embrace the moment. Be thankful that you have been given the opportunity to prove yourself because, believe me, the journey is just starting, and it doesn’t become any easier!

I wish all of you the best of luck!

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There is no Failure only Feedback

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie

If there are 6 words which have truly helped me in my journey as an entrepreneur to date, they are, “There is no Failure only Feedback”. They have allowed me to flip just about any situation when things are not doing well and I begin to doubt myself. The process of doubt starts with losing a sale when you were relatively close to finalising it.  The world seems to come crashing down at this point . You start to wonder about your future as an entrepreneur or in sales, next, you start to doubt the viability of what you are selling. You begin to blame all sorts of external circumstances for the situation you are in and, motivation, productivity and optimism take a nose dive.

During my second start company which was in the Import/Export business I experienced this situation at the beginning. Disillusioned at this, because of the success of my prior company I began to wonder what was happening and I started blaming everyone apart from myself. At this point a close friend who has done very well for himself in the same line of work, gave me some much needed advice. When I explained the situation to him, he reaffirmed my share of bad luck but helped me understand that my attitude towards failure was the real culprit. I had begun to take it too personally and it began to blur everything around me to a point where I was unable to put myself in a position to close that sale. He left me with the advice to use each one of my failures as feedback to refine my approach in the future.

At first it was confusing, I was not being given any apparent reason when I missed an opportunity. How was I supposed to get feedback? That is when the lightbulb went off in my head. I started asking myself the right questions which then led us to develop customer feedback forms on marketing material, presentations, quality, price and overall satisfaction. I started to listen to what my customers wanted and how we could position ourselves to fulfilling these requests. That was a turnaround for me in my journey and now, when I speak to, listen or read about successful entrepreneurs there is a common thread “Failures are pillars to your success”, we have to respond to them in the correct manner to make sure that we learn, adapt and provide what the market truly wants.

If you haven’t had success in closing your first deal yet, break down your current sales process from start to the finish. Get feedback, talk to individuals who have had success in that area, survey your target segment and figure out ‘Why your customers are not buying from you ?’. Then, use that information to adjust your sales process to get the results you want!

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The Key to Success

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

During the tizzy of making a prospect list, calling potential clients and fanatically focusing on closing that first deal we forget a fundamental concept which will in turn be a fundamental component in your final sale,  that is, “Patience”. Earlier on, we established the need to set SMART deadlines to reach our goal. Setting that goal does not mean however that you immediately make a dash for it in a 400m race. If you do, by mid race you will run out of steam, and that will drastically impact the probability of closing a deal within your specified time frame.

From the word ‘go’ roadblocks will be encountered along the way, unless these are faced with patience it will be difficult to reach your goal. It is definitely not fun when you make 4 calls without generating any interest, I know the feeling . However it is usually a later call where you actually hit something. If we lose patience, it directly impacts our ability to move forward effectively and in a positive and persistent manner.

During the next couple of stages in the sales process whether it is pitching, negotiating or managing a client as sales individuals or entrepreneurs, patience is definitive for productivity. Rushing in and giving too many discounts, negotiating too quickly or getting fed up with a clients constant complaining will lead to leaving money on the table and not building the sort of relationships which will be based on an equal footing in the future.

Sales is a challenging process and securing that first deal seems almost impossible at times. You need to remember to pace yourself during the process, pay attention to details without rushing through the process. This will not only be a more satisfying process, I have found it provides you with a level of inner peace and calmness which helps you focus and eventually get that sale a lot more efficiently, effectively and often at a quicker pace. If you want to succeed at anything in life remember,  “Patience” is going to be a critical success factor. Best of luck!

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Ask and you shall receive

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” Jim Rohn

You have got a sales appointment to meet the decision maker. The initiatives which you took in the last step are paying dividends. The sales pitch goes off well, there is excitement in the room and after a few words at the end of the meeting you are told they will be in touch. Feeling good about the pitch and thinking that the probability of securing the client is high, you are disappointed when there is no follow up from the client and after a while, the lead goes dead. This happened several times at the start of my journey and I always wondered what went wrong. I was really happy when I learned the answer to this conundrum.

An experienced entrepreneur I spoke to asked me whether I had been “Asking for the sale?”. Initially the question was confusing, but when I started to put the pieces together it made a lot more sense. I realised that whenever I was pitching to clients and enthusiasm was generated, I did not focus on closing the deal. I never asked the client for the sale! Psychologically I was avoiding being the pushy salesman, afraid the client would say the dreaded word ‘NO’. As a result I was repeatedly leaving money on the table by not asking the right questions.

Armed with this advice I went back to my script and practiced closing strategies for sales pitches. There are many interesting articles and training courses out there on closing strategies. I have taken the Neuro Linguistic Programming which has helped me tremendously. I have since formulated a way to subtly and politely ask the client for their business at the end of the presentation. Initially it felt strange and I was not  confident about asking, however, over time I have honed my skills. Now ,it has become second nature for me to go into a presentation and confidently, politely and subtly ask the client for their business.

The next time you are making a client presentation, make sure you formulate a strategy to ask the client to give you their business. You will not always win the business, however, through this process you will learn what you could be doing differently and then go back and ask for it again which should win you the contract!

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Be Proactive

 

“You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” Anthony Robbins

You have developed your product/service, have your pitch ready, and are ready to go. Unfortunately, customers don’t usually start banging on your door as soon as you announce your product/service to the world. If you are serious about getting that first sale, and more importantly getting it soon, you need to put yourself out there. Take the initiative to set a target, get a list together and start making those calls and visits to prospects. This is the only way you are going to see momentum in your business. Don’t worry about refining it to perfection, you need to go out there and see what the market thinks about it. Writing story boards and doing research from the comfort of your office is important, but you need to start taking action if you are want to see results. Listed below are a couple of pointers to get you started:

1. Set SMART targets: To get to any destination, you first need to know where you are going, what route to follow and an approximate lenght of time to get there. Charting the course of your first sale works pretty much in the same manner. Set yourself aggressive goals which are time bound. Specific targets keep you more focused and create a greater urgency to get things accomplished within stipulated time frames.

2. Put a list together: Do an industry analysis and select an industry in which you believe your product/service will have the greatest uptake. This will lead naturally to the next step, which is creating a list of prospective companies you can visit in this industry. After the completion of this list of companies, chart out references or friends you may leverage on to approach these companies. This step creates a greater degree of focus and increases the likelihood of closing a deal at a faster pace.

3. Start making those calls: Pick up the phone and start making calls to references, friends or directly to the company to get appointments or even sales. At this stage, you really kick it up a gear as you are now in direct contact with target customers. The impressions you make at this stage will be critical, especially if you are a new company. Have a scripted pitch which should not sound too rehearsed, be very polite and execute it all with the utmost professionalism. Follow each call with standardized follow up emails and start  building connections to get closer to closing that first deal.

4. Network Endlessly: If you are not selling, you should be networking. Use tools such as linkedin to help expand your current professional network. This expansion helps you get more qualified leads, greater access to a much wider net of companies and the opportunity to get your product/service known in the market without spending too much on advertising. The next time you get an invitation to mixers or industry specific conferences, use these opportunities to go out there and get known in the market place.

Use this list to get started. This is not the time to procrastinate. If you want success, you need to be willing to go out there are start looking for it. There is no better time than now to start your sales campaign!

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