Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to help your business connections?

One of the most important resources in business is the number of useful or potentially useful contacts that a person has. Business is all about making money and this might sound harsh. There is no point in having a lot of contacts if you have not been able to or will not be able to gain any advantage in your business by having these many contacts. Business is a different game than a regular employed job. Since you would like to make most out of your contacts you should also in turn try to help your business contacts in whatever way you can. This is the only way a good business networking system can be built. A person running a regular job, as part of his employment, probably would not require any kind of help from anybody else, other than those who have already been assigned to help them. And for those who have been assigned to help them it would be their responsibility to help the person whom they have been assigned to help. The person who is being helped can request/order the person who is helping him/her to help him/her. Simple isn't it. Unless the person is extremely selfless or totally foolish he/she would not (and should not) do things that he/she is supposed to do. So everything is supposed to be run like clockwork.

Additionally an employed person does not need any help in his/her work (other than perhaps when looking for new jobs and some marketing help if he/she is into marketing) from his set of friends and relatives. Even if they wanted to they would not be able to help him/her too much since things are mostly defined and predictable(more often than not) in a regular employment.

However in business there is a small difference. A business owner would be dealing with potential customers all across and all throughout his operations. He/She would be competing against a lot of other players in the market and would be able to use any and all help he/she can get from his/her friends and relatives. Unlike in the previous scenario, a person willing to help would probably be able to massively impact the success or failure of the businessperson.

Now here is the slightly tricky issue. Most of the regular employed friends/relatives of a businessperson would not have any clue about how to help a businessperson. They would always have been employed people and would probably have never needed any professional help from any of their non-co-worker friends and their relatives. They will very likely not understand the position the businessperson would be in and in most cases would not lift their little finger to help the businessperson in any way. This would apply even if the friend/relative sincerely wants the businessperson to succeed and thrive.

At the same time a businessperson would understand the position another businessperson would be in and would gladly lend a helping hand under the unwritten condition/assumption that the other businessperson would help him in a similar scenario. By doing this they would not only help their friend but in turn would be helping themselves in the future indirectly through a return favor.

Each of these businesspersons would know that the other would come to some help in the future or that they would prove to be useful to the other in the future and would therefore not hesitate to ask each other for help and would normally get help when asked for. This is the foundational principle behind business networking. You build more business connections so that these connections would prove to be useful at some time in the future. Effectively you invest in building your business network.

I can give a perfect example of how a simple good word about a businessperson could possibly help the businessperson. In the beginning of this financial year I had written a post on Zyxware Website thanking all the service providers of Zyxware who had rendered us valuable service during the last two years. One of the people whom I had thanked was a DTP center near us. A professor in the US who was searching for somebody in Trivandrum to do his DTP works came across our post and this resulted in him giving regular work to the DTP center. In yet another case another person who was looking for places to get visiting cards done came across the post and got in touch with our service provider and gave him his work.

Now let us come back to the friends and relatives of the businessperson. The probability of a businessperson proving to be as useful for his friends and relatives as for other businesspersons is relatively very low. This is because his/her (non-businessperson) friends and relatives would be normal employed people and they would normally not need any help from the businessperson. If the businessperson asks for help he/she would effectively be soliciting a transaction where he/she would most probably remain a debtor to another person. In my opinion no self-respecting businessperson [with a reasonably big ego :)] would want to do this and put himself/herself in such a position.

One of the easiest ways in which people can help businesspersons whom they would like to help is to put in a good word or two to other people they know and to possible customers of the businessperson. This might sound trivial but the impact could be statistically explained as highly significant. It has already been proven and well accepted that word-of-mouth marketing is the best marketing strategy. Now to put some numbers to the claim let us consider the following example :-

Suppose a businessperson has 200 friends and relatives, then of these 50% (by a conservative estimate) would want him/her to succeed in her life. Now if an average person has 100 contacts and if the 100 people who wants his/her businessperson friend to succeed tells half of the people they know about this businessperson friend then this word-of-mouth marketing would easily have reached 5000 people. Yes there would be intersections between the sets of contacts but this example should convey the general idea.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

People without Vision Perish

My idea of a company I would like to work for is what I have been trying to materialize through Zyxware. A company which would give its employees a lot of freedom and flexibility in what they do and when they do; a company where people would have infinite potential for growth; a company where people could have all the opportunities to learn whatever they wanted to learn; a company where people would have the freedom to fit their abilities to the opportunities available; a company where capability would be rewarded more than anything else; a company where friends work together for the heck of it; a company where working is fun; a company where employees share the profits.

Since inception we have hired a total of 15 people at Zyxware. Of these 6 have already left the company. In spite of my best efforts, which have been quite aligned with my vision described above, people have left the company. I am neither angry nor sad nor depressed that these people have left the company. Even though I had mentioned about a 2 year bond at the time of signing up these people I had not actually made them sign an agreement for the bond. The reason was simple. If I cannot hold a person in the company just with the vision, the work ethics, the environment and the actual work involved, then there is no point in holding them back with a bond.

Working for a small company is a risky proposition. The only way the risk can be mitigated is to work for the quick growth of the company. The company has been growing quite steadily in terms of market reach, internal capabilities, internal processes, brand value, brand recognition, generation of opportunities. Working for a small company is like digging an oil well. You have to work really hard with little or no returns on your effort until you strike oil. You wouldn't know when you are going to strike oil and once it does it would take only very little effort to get the oil out. The faster you dig the earlier you strike oil. If you quit before you strike oil, it would be tragic if you were only inches from the oil when you quit.

I am very confident about my vision and the possibilities of Zyxware. I know that it is just going to be a matter of time before we strike oil. It is one thing to dream about something and it is quite something else to make another person dream the same thing. I have been trying very hard to infuse this into the employees of Zyxware. I know that I have succeeded partially with this (only partially, as suggested by the attrition). One particular factor that I have identified as a common reason for employees (in most of the cases) leaving the company was the immense pressure from the families and friends of the people who have quit because they had no clue about the vision behind the company nor the prospects of making money in the Internet domain.

I am very confident about my oratorial abilities and I have seen sparks of excitement whenever I had shared my vision with my team. However from the attrition rate I can see that this vision has not quite managed to percolate in any level to their parents or friends. It is sad that even in circa 2008 people in Kerala make collective decisions about careers even in the case of people as old as 28. Again it should be noted that nobody is truly fully not responsible for their decisions. Friends and family can only influence decision making. Decisions have to be ultimately made by the people themselves. This again points to another peculiarity of Kerala culture. Most people are easily influenced and most people do not have solid convictions or opinions on their own.

There is a verse in The Bible that goes "People without vision perish". This is what I have to say to the youth of today. You have to have a vision and then follow your vision with your passion. You would already have increased your chances of phenomenal success, several fold by this single point of action itself. Life is not just about the mean, it is also about the extremes, because without the extremes the mean would have been something else. It is always better to be a leader than to be a follower. But then you will always need followers for leaders to exist. So we need both leaders and followers. Those of you who think that you should be leaders should try their hand at it and those of you who think that they are not suited to be leaders they should rather not and just be good followers.

I am not at all dejected by the fact that these people have quit the company. I hope that once the company gains a little more brand recognition, the possibility of grand success would reach the family and friends of my employees and in turn bias the decision making in the company's favor rather than against it.

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