Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Ingrid Vanderveldt (@ontheroadwithiv). Ingrid is an entrepreneur, investor and media personality, and currently serves as Dell’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). As Dell’s EIR, she oversees the program that provides access for Dell’s 10M small business customers and her resources and expertise help entrepreneurs worldwide build and grow their companies. She is the creator and curator of the $100M Dell Innovators Credit Fund (DICF) to power entrepreneurs worldwide and the leader of the Dell Founders Club and the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs www.Dell.com/entrepreneurs
SmallBizLady: Why is networking so important for entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: Networking can be one of the most valuable uses of your time no matter what industry you’re in or what your role at your company is. And for entrepreneurs at any stage it’s a must. Whether you’re just starting out, looking to raise capital or planning to expand into new markets, it’s your network that can help you take your business to the next level.
Networking is all about making connections and building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. It’s a known fact that people want to do business with those they know and trust, so it’s important for entrepreneurs to take the time to attend in-person networking events and engage with relevant organizations. You never know who you might meet, and these interactions can lead to future opportunities for both parties, be it anything from advice to an introduction to a new business contact to an actual business deal.
SmallBizLady: How did you build your network?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: When I was first starting out, I gradually built up my network through non-stop putting myself out there in places where I could meet people that I could collaborate with. Networks don’t naturally pop up. The people who are doing the big things in the world (and who we all love learning from and want to work with) have a LOT going on. They have already built their networks. So if you want to meet them or connect with them, it requires a lot of hard work and it takes time. You have to roll up your sleeves and just go do it.
SmallBizLady: What are some of your personal networking tips?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: My number one tip is to always be networking as you never know who you’ll meet and what they’ll have to offer. Every person you talk to has the potential to introduce you to others in his or her network.
Additionally, it’s important not to treat networking as prospecting – it’s important to develop some degree of a relationship with each person you meet, rather than focusing on just transactional deals.
Another tip is to have clear cut objectives of what you want to get out of networking and who you’d like to meet. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t ask others for help, and if you don’t know who you want to meet, the members of your networks and other people you meet can’t help you reach them.
Finally, focus on giving not taking. Serve as a resource to your business networks, and in return the members of your network are likely to do the same for you.
SmallBizLady: How can conferences be used as a networking tool?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: I often talk to people coming back from conferences and it doesn’t sound like they took advantage of the opportunity to move the ball forward – they traveled, they had fun, but they didn’t focus on making meaningful professional connections. I like to set objectives for myself before any trip so I have a general sense ahead of time on who I’d like to meet and potential goals I’d like to accomplish. While there, I make sure to focus on takeaways and action items that will happen following the conference. I make sure to build in time to network and build relationships, and also try to remind myself that sometimes business relationships and deals will happen at unexpected times in unexpected places.
SmallBizLady: How can entrepreneurs and small business owners use social media to build their networks?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: Social media is a great way to magnify your message, connect with an audience of like-minded thinkers and build your network. The key to building your own network through social networks is to think about how you can add value to the experience. Again, people are busy and already have full plates. As you think about your social media strategy, really consider how you, as an “unknown” person to them, can provide value in your messaging in a way that your audience will be willing invite you into the few moments they have each day to look at social media.
I like to think of social media and my audience as a “gift” to my brand and businesses, so I always look at what I can give back that adds value.
SmallBizLady: How do women network differently than men?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: Experts say that men tend to network less frequently and in a transactional, direct manner, reaching out to who they need at the time of need – whether that need be advice, a job, a connection, etc. Women are natural networkers and tend to personalize professional networking by forging powerful bonds and nurturing long-term relationships, often thinking about how they can help their peer first in order to get what they need in return. This style of relational vs. direct networking puts the emphasis on connecting as an end in and of itself, rather than a means to an end goal.
SmallBizLady: What can women learn from men about networking and vice versa?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: In my opinion, women can benefit from the broader networking approach that men seem to take on. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study on “The Role of Networks in Women’s Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership” shows that women entrepreneurs tend to have smaller networks than men, and that they are less diverse, often comprised of close friends and family members, while men are more likely to seek advice from other network sources. On the other hand, men can benefit from adopting a more personalized and relational approach that women excel at; this would make it easier for them to find what they need through their entire extended network, rather than seeking out the correct person to provide it directly.
SmallBizLady: What is the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network and why is Dell targeting female entrepreneurs specifically?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: As female entrepreneurs we’ve traditionally been under-represented in business and tech fields, but there’s more and more evidence that when given the opportunity, women shine as leaders. Dell launched the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) four years ago to create and foster a community of like-minded female founders looking for ways to grow – primarily by expanding into fast-growth, emerging countries like China, India, Brazil, Turkey – and who need a venue to exchange ideas, learn and do business with one another.Through the network, Dell supports and nurtures these women by providing access to the knowledge, networks, and capital they need to succeed.
SmallBizLady: Can you share some examples of networking leading to real business deals?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) is a perfect example of the power of networking. In fact, it was through attending the inaugural DWEN event in Shanghai in 2010 that I first became engaged with Dell, and it was a result of the relationships I made at the event that I was able to find a buyer for my alternative energy company. Then, fast-forward two years and I’m working as Dell’s first entrepreneur in residence!
Some other success stories that came out of engagement in the DWEN network are as follows:
- Venture catalyst Springboard Enterprises officially launched in Australia as a result of connections made at DWEN 2010 in Shanghai.
- DWEN 2011 in Rio inspired UK entrepreneur Alex Butler to start KindredHQ, a community for business owners.
- Maria-Helena Pettersson, Partner at Ernst & Young Brazil, established a Winning Women program in Brazil after making significant alliances at DWEN 2011 in Rio.
- Jacqueline Arias, Founder of Republica, is now importing organic baby food to India as a result of her experiences attending the 2012 DWEN event in New Delhi.
SmallBizLady: There are a lot of single mothers and divorced women who are starting businesses to reinvent themselves. What bootstrapping advice do you have for them?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: Every small business has unique needs in terms of the amount and type of capital they need to stay in business and to grow. It’s important to carefully assess what you need and what type of funding is right for you, be it equity, debt financing, or looking to friends, family and personal savings to get started. You often hear of people struggling to try to get bank loans, but they forget it’s not the only game in town. The Small Business Administration has a number of resources for businesses of all stages. Springboard Enterprises, a “venture-catalyst” that has helped companies raise over $5.5 billion, has a great support program for women. Crowdfunding with popular sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter has also been a good option for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.
SmallBizLady: What do you think holds back women entrepreneurs in business?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: Historically, women around the world have been under-represented in business leadership, and while women are now successfully starting and growing businesses, they are underserved by the financial community and the technology industry. In established and emerging markets alike, women founders struggle to access the capital, networks and knowledge they need to start or take their businesses to the next level.
Despite owning 30 percent of businesses in the US, less than 5 percent of venture capital funding goes to female CEOs. According to the Department of Commerce, women are substantially less likely to tap outside funding including loans, angel investments or venture capital over their lifetime – and less startup or growth capital means slower growth. Men tend to be quicker to ask for what they want, while women are slower to ask, feeling they need to earn the ability to ask. Women need to get past their inhibitions and can benefit by identifying and engaging in the networks that are critical to their businesses.
SmallBizLady: What does it mean to “Pay It Forward” for female entrepreneurs like yourself?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: My personal mission is to “Empower a Billion Women by 2020.” I am passionate about helping women become stewards of their own lives, through empowering them with the right tools, resources and knowledge to help drive their businesses, careers and ultimately, financial stability and wealth.
During DWEN earlier this month, Dell launched an initiative called “Pay It Forward” to support one million female entrepreneurs by 2015. Pay it Forward is a movement to harnesses the power of our collective networks to positively impact the future of women’s entrepreneurship around the world. We believe if one woman helps another woman, who in turn helps another 10 women, businesses, communities and ultimately economies, will prosper.
Mentoring a young entrepreneur, making a donation of money or time to a dedicated organization or investing in a budding startup are just a few ways to provide your support and create a positive impact. You can visit www.Dell.com/payitforward for suggestions on ways to pay it forward through a network of non-profit organizations focused on advancing women and girls.
SmallBizLady: Where can entrepreneurs and small business owners go to find resources from Dell?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: The Dell Center for Entrepreneurs is a community by and for entrepreneurs and serves as a one-stop shop for the resources founders need to start, run and grow a business. Visit Dell.com/entrepreneurs to learn more.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.