In last week’s post, Surround Yourself with Smart, Trustworthy People, I talked about building teams of smart, trustworthy people around you. In two LinkedIn groups that I post this blog to I got comments that I thought I should address here – especially as I thought I had covered the points they raised in last week’s post! Also, I had a meeting this week with an individual where the subject of networking for leads came up, and which tells a similar story to that of the comments.
The first of the two comments was:
“What if you’re a first timer and you don’t know who or why to trust anyone? Most people only want to make money or steal your ideas/inventions or they cause you to become overly in debt with false hype and excuses…”
I don’t necessarily agree with the “most people” comment here, but as I said last week “it amazes me the number of stories I hear about people who are willing to take advantage of the naivete of many new business owners”. On the flip side, there are a lot of people who want to help you and would just like to be appropriately compensated for their efforts. Remember, the value of someone’s contribution to your project is NOT based on how much money you have in your checking account.
I would also venture that if someone is going to “steal your ideas/inventions”, they would a) need to have the knowledge in their team to take those ideas forward, and b) a high level of passion for the idea, otherwise their chances of being successful are significantly lowered. This considerably narrows the field of thieves.
The second was:
“I have been trusting people, without thinking that the trust may not be warranted. Who is your competitor? How much can you disclose? What sort of Agreements do you need? Do you need Legal Counsel to review everything? I think your advice on finding smart, trustworthy people is excellent. But exactly how do you go about doing this? Would be very much interested in your views. Thanks.”
As you can see, the common thread in both comments is ‘how do you know who to trust?’; or as I said last week “how do you avoid these types of situations where you might get ‘taken to the cleaners’?”.
My position on this issue is the same that it was last week – use your current network of people that you know and trust, and then expand out from there.
Your current network should always be your first choice in trying to find people with the skills and expertise that you need. Even if the people in your network don’t have the necessary skills, it is likely that they have people in their trusted networks that you don’t know.
If you want to know about someone that hasn’t come through your trusted network, (again, as I said last week) use your trusted network to see if they have heard of them. For example, a client of mine was approached by a landlord to expand her business into a location that he had available. At least two people in her trusted network told her about ‘issues’ they had heard of with this particular landlord. This allowed her to approach him from a position of knowledge – and in the end, decide not to do business with him.
Even if your trusted network doesn’t know the individual, you can still use your network and other advisors to discuss the situation, identify any potential issues, and help define a course of action. Try to talk to people that have done business with them before, check other reference sources (for example, did you call the Better Business Bureau). This falls under the “trust, but verify” heading – trust that people mean what they say, but verify until such point that they have earned your trust. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, there is a high probability that it is – and you should at least proceed with caution.
As the second comment touched on, according to who you are dealing with, “trust, but verify” may require not giving full disclosure on confidential information, or having someone sign an NDA (in my opinion, many entrepreneurs go overboard asking everyone for an NDA before they will go beyond their basic elevator pitch). As for Contracts, you should have one with pretty much anyone that is performing work for you. Contracts (and such) put in black and white what the agreement is between two parties – what each will do for the other as part of their business relationship; if you write it down, there is less chance of a misunderstanding. Beyond that a Contract (or an NDA for that matter) is really just an insurance policy that is brought out when something goes wrong, so that the appropriate party (contractual parties, arbitrators, courts) can make a judgement on how to resolve an issue. If your day-to-day business relationship is based on conversations that include statements such as “well, the contract says …”, then you don’t have a working business relationship.
Something else also came to mind as I re-read the two comments – were they really saying that they didn’t have a trusted network and didn’t know how to build one? This also was brought into focus in the other meeting that I briefly mentioned at the start of the post.
The individual I was talking to last week wanted to network into the operational management of entities like museums and zoos. When I pointed out that given what her husband did for a living she probably came into social contact with a number of people that might be trustees of such entities, her reaction was basically one of “I didn’t think of that”. I would guess that our two commenters (if they really are saying they don’t have a trusted network) are guilty of the same narrow thinking – usually one which says “no-one I know will know them”. If so, they would do well to remember that (even with today’s online social media) you don’t know who your trusted network knows – and your ‘desired connection’ may come for the people you least expect to be able to provide it. Don’t pre-judge whether people in your current network can help you; let them all know what you need next in your business.
If you really don’t have a good network of trusted people, start work on expanding it right now. You need the network in place BEFORE you need to leverage those relationships. Relationships don’t develop overnight – they take time and nurturing. I always find that a good way to start a relationship is by helping other people, by showing that I am trustworthy. People will reciprocate, or they won’t, helping you filter out the ones that you want to continue to build a relationship with.
If your current network is small, try to initially focus on ‘connectors’ (people who just seem to naturally collect large networks around them) or people who have skills and experience that you might need down the road. I’m not saying this is easy – you have to put yourself out there in environments that increase the probability that you’re going to meet the type of people you want to meet; and you have to not give up. Growing your network is something that you need to be constantly aware of.
There are no magic bullets here; just hard work. As with many things you have to put in the work way before you see the results – not something that, in general, our ‘instant gratification’ society is good at. In business laying the foundations in this and other areas is necessary so that you are building on a solid base.