Sunday, 25 January 2015

How to find the right advisor for your business

By Bridie Walsh and Trang Du

There is a slew of advisors, coaches and mentors out there. But how do you find the right one for your business?

Whatever you do, consider this this crucial question carefully because who you choose as your advisor could make or break your business.

Good or bad advice will come down to the type of people you surround yourself with, so Two Square Pegs have compiled some tips to help you find the right advisor for your business.

Think through your needs

You will have certain business needs, but not necessarily the budget to hire. Not at the early stages at least. So this is another incentive to seek an advisor.
Evaluate what your business needs are and then search for advisors that have the skillsets, knowledge and networks that can meet them.

Evaluation involves looking at the traits and skillsets of your existing team, and mapping the gaps. You can even create a job description for your ideal advisor.
Review your business plan. Perhaps there are new markets you want to break into, but don’t have the knowledge in that area or industry. This will become another clue as to the type of person you will want to connect with.

Trusted counsellors

Of course, the saying, “you don’t know, what you don’t know” always applies.
Sometimes you simply need wiser counsel; someone who has industry or business experience and can take a helicopter view of your company – because they have blazed a trail before you. They will be able to point out the problems you have and why, and the solutions are probably not what you first thought.

Top advisors for start-ups have these three qualities

1.     An ability to be hands on when needed
a.     Let’s face it, starting up is tough. Bootstrapping your way to growth and positive cashflow in the beginning sometimes means that advisors need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and do some of the grunt work too.

2.     Willing to guide you through difficult problems and challenges
a.     The best advisors are natural problem solvers who will make you think about a problem in a new way. It can help you find a way out.
b.     In any challenge your business may face, one idea or solution is rarely the silver bullet that turns things around. It is usually a process – a series of solutions and creative approaches – that keeps your business humming. The best advisors support you through a process that will drive your business success.

3.     Strong networks
a.     Not least of all, advisors have strong networks connected to a range of business support, know-how, people and associations. No man, nor one business, is an island. We all thrive in a community of people. Who your advisor knows could be the next critical customer that launches a thousand, a new marketing opportunity, or potential collaborator.

Reaching out

Once you know what you need, or at least think you do, start networking.
Tell people in your circles that you are looking for an advisor. Describe your business needs and the skills in a person you are looking for and let your contacts do the talking.

Reach out to organisations like Two Square Pegs, who create channels to meet and match with the right advisors. Many local councils have small business programs and mentoring, such as Boroondara Council, that can be worthwhile connections.

Join meetup groups in your business area of interest. In Victoria, we recommend Startup Victoria and Silicon Beach for starting out. Search for meetups in your state.

Importantly, don’t be afraid to ask. Let people in your everyday networks know you are searching for the right advice and would be happy to meet for a coffee.
Invest and recruit advisors who can inform and grow your business, it could just be the best business decision you make this year.

Two Square Pegs is developing a white paper on “finding the right advisor” that will be released early in 2015.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Build your professional network: combine your online and offline presence

By Rachel Kurzyp

There’s no escape, we live in a highly connected digital world. There is an endless supply of online tools for communicating. But what about human connection?

Connecting online – through social media, websites and email –it can be easy to forget the importance of face-to-face relationships (How many times do you text, rather than call? How many times do you email, rather than drop by someone’s desk?).

Yet, to truly enhance your professional career you will need to network online and offline (yes, we mean meeting up with a real-life person) and do both, effectively.

So how do we use the digital world to network successfully? How do we turn our digital connections into valuable real-life relationships?

Here are three ways you can combine your online and offline presence to build the professional relationships you want:

1.     Use social media as an ice-breaker

Make social media work for you.

Platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter have features that are perfect for finding like-minded people, organisations and events quickly and easily.

You can ask your current contacts (called 1st degree contacts) on LinkedIn to introduce you to one of their contacts (known as a  2nd degree contact) -  ask your friend Bob to introduce you to his friend Sarah. This feature will help you connect with individuals working in organisations that are interesting to you.

Use industry hashtags (you can find them by searching for key words like #smallbusiness and #networking) on Twitter to reduce the amount of time spent searching for events and news. Hashtags can also help you participate in online conversations and meet well-connected individuals.

When networking via social media it’s good to let individuals know that you’d like to connect both online and offline. If they live or work nearby, offer to take them out for a coffee. There might be an opportunity to collaborate on a new project.

2.     Become an Influencer

You have experience and knowledge – so share it.
Social media and digital communications makes it easier than ever to spread your ideas. Take time to create a personal profile and highlight one or two areas that set you apart from your peers. Then focus on sharing content, ideas and advice in these areas.

Joining Google Hangouts, Twitter Q and A’s and being a part of already established communities via websites and blogs is the best way to get yourself known in an industry.
To make sure you are networking effectively online, follow the rule of thirds. It goes like this: one third of your content should be about you, one third should be about your industry, and one third should be dedicated to engaging with those who follow and like you.

Don’t be afraid to take your networking offline. Make a lasting impression by holding small networking events in your local area. This will give you the opportunity to continue your online discussions at a personal and deeper level whilst building personal relationships with people who care about the things you care about, not just faceless digital followers.

3.     Speak up and stand out

Forget about the number of followers, likes or favourites you get – online vanity metrics aren’t important. Instead, focus on making an impression face-to-face.

Seek speaking opportunities that are relevant to your work. Use your online connections to gain positions on boards and panels. Position yourself as an influencer and increase your networks by being seen highlighting your knowledge and experience.

It is not until an individual meets you in-person that they will form a complete picture of who you are and what you do. So much of our personal brand (what we put out into the public sphere) is made up of the way we speak and interact with others.

Consider opportunities to attend events outside of your industry. They can be great to connect with individuals and new ideas. You never know who you will meet and how they could become relevant to your career later. You’ll also be able to establish yourself as unique individual within that industry with a different skillset to offer them.

Encourage those that you meet at events, or on the street, to connect with you on online. Suggest they follow you on Twitter, friend you on Facebook or connect on LinkedIn to continue to network and stay connected professionally.

Those who balance developing their online and offline relationships successfully become effective networkers who create more work opportunities for themselves and others. In today’s digital world, you can’t afford to skip one – make sure you do both.

Rachel Kurzyp is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She specialises in digital strategy, content and training. Rachel has over seven years’ experience in marketing and digital communications across hospitality, retail, corporate, not-for-profit and social business, in Australia and overseas. Rachel enjoys helping people step into the digital space by sharing her philosophy – make your content work. Read more about Rachel’s work: and say hi on Twitter @RachelKurzyp.