These days this is a controversial statement. The UK government claims it is desperate to start anew and banish the old boys’ network, insisting anybody can make it in today’s Britain.
Forgive me for a bit of scepticism, given this comes from a government that appears to be dominated by old boys from elite universities and educational establishments.
Then it was former Dragon James Caan’s turn to come under fire, when he claimed parents shouldn’t give their kids a leg up – only for it to quickly emerge that companies he is involved in have hoisted his children more than a few rungs up the career ladder.
Then there is the seemingly weekly lobbying scandal which, if nothing else, proves that contacts in high places are worth high sums of money to the right people. The market for “who you know” can be a very lucrative one if you have chosen to ignore the direction of your moral compass.
So let’s not kid ourselves. Life and business has always been about who you know and, in an increasingly connected and networked world, it’s time to embrace that fact rather than ignore it.
Here are just some of the ways which demonstrate that who you know can make all the difference between business success and failure, especially for businesses and startups that want to grow quickly.
These days, the first port of call for most new hires should be your own network or colleague’s networks. A recommendation from somebody you respect can be invaluable.
This is especially true for small or medium-sized businesses that cannot afford to shell out for an expensive recruitment consultant.
One of the biggest problems that startups or smaller businesses often face is trying to get a foot in the door with larger clients or compete with businesses with a longer track record. You are seen as a riskier bet by seasoned buyers.
So, good industry knowledge and contacts (even if they are friends of friends or part of your wider network) can unlock that all-important meeting or deal. And the only way you can really ensure new sales people can hit the ground running is that they come with a tried and tested bank of contacts.
Networking is not just key for outright sales, but also wider business development opportunities and partnerships.
Often smaller businesses are starved of distribution opportunities and don’t have the financial firepower to just spend, spend, spend on marketing.
The right partnerships that open up new avenues can put entrepreneurs on the right road to success, sharing the upside without the downside of significant extra costs.
Who you know helps any business keep on top of product development. Whether its keeping in touch with the brightest and the best in your sector, or fuelling the creative spark with other people you know, collective knowledge breeds innovation.
In a fast-moving world, contacts can also help give you the fast track on the latest IT and other developments, which can improve the productivity of your business and save you money.
Most businesses need financial support at some point. If you are stuck high and dry in the bank lending desert, funding from family, friends and supporters could make all the difference.
When it comes to early equity funding and start-ups, family and friends are often the difference between being a “wantrepreneur” and an entrepreneur.
These days, marketing is so much quicker, easier and cost-effective if you can go social and promote your product or brand through Facebook, Twitter et al.
When it comes to social networking, who you know is crucial. If you are well connected to well connected people, then you can do very well online.
Similarly, having the right contacts in the press or knowing influential bloggers can save a lot of money on public relations (and journalists and writers always prefer to deal directly with passionate entrepreneurs with great stories to tell).
“Who you know” doesn’t just need to be about money or new business.
Strong advice, mentoring and support can help any business steer the right course. Crucial experience can help any business avoid those costly mistakes that are all too common amongst smaller businesses run by first time entrepreneurs.
Now don’t get me wrong. I admire and respect any Open Door policies that can help young people from all backgrounds to reach that elusive first rung of the career ladder.
But let’s not fool ourselves. Who you know is always going to be important for any business or any opportunity and that is not going to change in a hurry.
So get networking – your future might depend on it.
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