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Finding investment is a hard slog, it’s all about who you know and how to network

​So, this statement isn’t ground-breaking or new to most people, but recently I have seen the ‘who you know’ mantra coming out in a number of areas in my day-to-day life and it got me thinking how nothing seems to have changed in the last 50 years – but is it a bad thing or not? Do people who know how to work the system deserve to get better jobs, status or funding than those that don’t. We all know there exists the privileged few who are born into the opportunity and never need to try to network or get to know the right people. Working at big old school advertising agencies made me see these unfair discrepancies –  for example, the daughter of the CEO automatically given a placement or Account Exec position whether they had the ability or not, for others it was a hard, grilling interview process. This systematic, structural inequality hasn’t changed over time and appears in so many industries we as a society simply accept it, conform and fit into it. There is no level-playing field so it seems unfair to me to inform students that if they work hard that will be enough to get them where they want to be in life, of course this is important but I believe of equal importance is to learn the skills to network, to identify who can help you and how you can help them, to seek out opportunity and be available and open to it and ultimately know how to close. How do we teach these skills to kids, and would that put them on a more level-playing field or at least have a better shot on target?

With 2,461 new businesses started in this country just today alone, the UK is seeing a rise of the self-employed entrepreneur and its encouraging this industry to thrive, encouraging digital and technological development which will aid society to develop, improve communities and ultimately help our economy. As a marketing consultancy supporting these businesses I also back this bid and see these companies as exciting potential that is something to be a part of. I also see first-hand the passion and dogged determination of these entrepreneurs, sadly coupled with the inequality of funding opportunity to support them, because it still comes down to ‘who you know’. You could say that one idea is better than another, that it has more growth potential or a better ROI, and that would be fair, but getting a foot in the door of a fund-raiser or investor is hard enough to even have your business glanced at. Are those that are not getting a look in just not trying hard enough to ‘work the system’ or are they purely just unlucky – is seeking investment 40% luck, 40% who you know and 20% hard work?

I recently learnt of an old colleague who has just become an MD, she was never the best at her job, the cleverest or sharpest, but she has achieved a salary and position before she has turned 40 by getting in with the right people, by networking and being so effective at selling her ability and skills that she has been awarded the ultimate lucrative prize. How do I feel about this? Jealous? Sure! Annoyed? No not really, I actually found more respect for her than I ever did before. She went out there, not as a privileged few, and she went after what she wanted, single-mindedly, perhaps pushing people back to get it, but ultimately remaining true to what she was aiming for – the real heart of ambition you could argue? If you are in a room full of people you have never met before, where everyone is in the same position – all there to get a job or investment let’s say. Who’s got closer to the goal, the one who has got hold of the attendee list, researched the individual (finding out any common interests or contacts) and potentially got an introduction in advance or those that have prepped answers on their background and have better experience on paper? Most likely it’s the former, particularly if the individual has the charisma and sales patter to help close the deal. The better salesman wins hands down.
Can these skills truly be learnt or are they inherent in us to be one way or another – the wallflower or the life and soul? If they can’t be learnt the astute wallflower needs to partner with a life and souler to meet their yang with their ying. Then you’re open to the opportunity again.

So, what makes a good networker, an opportunist, a salesman? I had a think and came up with a list of skills:

  • Ambition (in their veins)
  • Competitive (to the core)
  • A true listener (seeks the opportunity out)
  • Always says yes (party, envelope opening = potential)
  • A talker (no fear, find the one you want and not ashamed of cutting a conversation short that isn’t benefitting either party)

The last one I want to add is controversial, a lot of the people I know who have achieved their goals are superficial, there I’ve said it. They aren’t authentic because that reveals too much about themselves and could give the game away, they need to ‘flirt’ with everyone to find the right person. If you choose to do this it probably will help support you achieving your goals too. I’m more of an authentic, honest person – this is me, this is who I am and this is what I want kind of person, and to be honest I haven’t done bad out of opportunities being this way. Perhaps if I was more pretentious I would have got further? Who knows. One thing I do know as a start-up seeking investment you need to aim to have all of the skills above or know someone that does, as well as the cracking idea that no one has thought of that’s going to make lots of money, and ideally a good contacts black book or know someone with one to succeed. Surround yourself with the people that will help you succeed and reach your goals, (and if it was me – be nice, be honest and be authentic along the way). So, if you are one of the exciting 2,461 new businesses starting today, I wish you the most amount of good luck, it’s hard out there but it’s worth the struggle, so you can do it!

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