Blog: Jan Gensheimer & Gerry Roston (NEF)

Who are the Ann Arbor region's new entrepreneurs? What do they need? Jan Gensheimer and Gerry Roston do more than just offer consulting services. They also help run the New Enterprise Forum, a non-profit organization committed to assisting local business innovators through mentoring programs, networking events and monthly forums. Guess what they'll be blogging about?

Jan Gensheimer & Gerry Roston - Post 3: It’s who you know that really counts

Many have seen Ralph Waldo Emerson’s overly optimistic quote which states, “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Many first time entrepreneurs, even those who may not be familiar with the quote, believe this is the key to their success. A truer, more important, and actionable, quote which should be on the lips of all entrepreneurs, is “It's not what you know, but who you know.”

Who you know, and who you need to know, both play a critical role in entrepreneurial success.

Serial entrepreneurs get it. They know an investor, a first customer, or a great executive, or can find one with a few phone calls. When they set out to launch a new venture, they are able to quickly assemble a team by picking people with whom they have worked before, know personally, or have been recommended by word-of-mouth for their previous and relevant success.

Investors get it. They join angel groups and venture funds, and talk business investments with people they know. They invest in deals that are referred to them by someone they trust.

Seasoned professional service providers get it. The lawyers, accountants, consultants, and insurers with established practices get returning business from their previous clients and referrals from their clients and their networks.

So why don’t novice entrepreneurs and newly established service providers get it? And how is it that these really smart people do not know how critical it is to put down your work and go meet other people?

Part of the answer might be that networking is not magic. It takes time, and effort, to build up a network of contacts. Additionally, a person who approaches networking solely as a means for resolving their current challenges is not likely to meet with sustainable, long term success. Networking is about building relationships and giving as much (if not more) than taking. This takes time.

It’s especially important to get “out” and network when you are starting out. For instance, by sharing her idea at a networking event, an entrepreneur may find an impassioned first employee, a customer who needs the solution and will test or buy the new product. She may find an investor willing to support the business, or another smart person who can help build the business faster. More importantly, as the entrepreneur’s network grows, the network itself will help spread the word, extending the reach far beyond that of the entrepreneur herself.

At the New Enterprise Forum (NEF), we’ve been hosting networking events for 23 years, bringing the entrepreneurial community together once a month around a topic of interest, all in the name of providing a forum for networking. Dozens of other organizations are active in our region and across the state. If you’re an entrepreneur with an idea or a service – put down your work and find an appropriate networking venue for your growing business. Register to attend. Put it on your calendar – in pen. Take your business cards. Have a clean and crisp 30-second “pitch.” Introduce yourself to people you don’t know. The networking season is upon us – and you need to run – not walk – to a networking venue near you. The future of your business depends on it.