Tips For Entrepreneurs: The secret power of strangers

A big mistake many of us make is to assume that if you are going into business, you want to look for who you know in that business.

Jerusalem Business Networking Forum 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Business Networking Forum 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you were in my class in Bobover Yeshiva in fourth grade, you probably wouldn’t have a high opinion of me as a professional.
“Ha! Issamar is a highfalutin business consultant? I remember when...” and recall some less-then-wonderful memory of myself as a child.
Getting that person as a client would be very hard. Because he knows me well from a long time ago, it would be hard for him to come to terms with that. Just like he is not a child anymore and has grown up, so, too, I have – and, yes, I did move on from being the ADHD kid in the class who hated sports and eventually grew up.
A big mistake many of us make is to assume that if you are going into business, you want to look for who you know in that business. Going into commercial real estate? You’d probably assume that your neighbor or cousin who is in real estate is a great place to start. “Hello, Mr. Gold? I’ve just gotten my real-estate license as of yesterday and was wondering if you were looking to sell any of your buildings...”
And yet, as those who have been there can attest, that conversation does not usually end with a listing to sell property.
It’s because they see you for who you were, instead of who you are.
Say you are on LinkedIn. People you are connected with know you from your job as a sales clerk in a local shop. Now, you decide you are entering the world of design and are aiming to launch a new clothing brand.
People who know you might wish you luck. They will probably root for you to succeed. But will they run and give you business, or recommend you? Not as simple as it sounds. This is because they don’t know for certain that you can make it happen. And they still see you as a “shop clerk with a dream,” not as a bona fide entrepreneur.
In this case, your second-level connections (those who personally know the people you are connected with) on LinkedIn are (shock!) less valuable in a sense then the totally unknown people, who are third-level connections and beyond, or members of different groups on the site you might both be members of.
Because these further distanced folks start fresh with you based on what you do now, as of today, they don’t have to go through an amnesia process to get to know you as the newer you. And when you engage, interact and satisfy them with your product or services, they will gladly refer you to others and give you an all-important testimonial.
With several of these new experiences in hand, the people who know you in your old life get to meet a new you who has already been accepted as reinvented. And the social proof and validation by others will enable them to get on the bandwagon and get up to speed accepting and referring business and connections to the reinvented you.
So how do you get these new connections and clients that are key to making this scenario a success? Network – and ignore anyone you know.
A novice mistake made by many business owners who start attending networking events is that they meet someone they know and spend the night talking to them. That’s not what you came for, is it? The reason you came is to network, as in “meet people who are strangers.”
Don’t try to cover everyone in the room. This is not a business- card collection contest. But do speak to new people, and try to spend a few minutes speaking to each one. If you meet “just” five or 10 new people at an event and get to know them, you have done a good job. And this is true no matter how many people are at the event.
These people get to know you for your new career... and the people in their lives are now accessible to a totally exciting new you, the one who has the new clothing line.
The same is true online. Start a blog and write articles about your new topic of expertise. Advertise on Google (or Bing, where bids are often lower). The people who come from the traffic and buzz you are generating come based on what is now, not on what was then. And before you know it, your recent past is just back story to your past of “before I went into the apparel industry, I was a clerk in a small shop...”
Yes, I’ve had (some) schoolmates who have come to me for guidance and business strategy. But they’ll never forget to rib me with, “I still remember when the principal called your dad...” Ahh, the memories.
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Issamar Ginzberg is a business adviser, marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has been published in more than 50 business publications.