30/04/2015

By Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause4


The latest research outlines that the average person knows around 600 people and one of the biggest assets in anyone’s life is a large network.

A network of generous people, which grows the more you share, is invaluable to anyone wanting to get ahead. I recently came across a classic study on ‘Getting a job’ by Mark Granovetter where he found that 56% of people found a job through their personal connections, whereas only 18.8% found a new role through an advert alone.

Of course, this isn’t surprising and it’s a definite trend in how I see people access new jobs. However what Granovetter goes on to say which is fascinating is that within the personal connections, the highest percentage of jobs came from ‘weak ties’ acquaintances, i.e. people you’ve met only once at a networking event, or have messaged on LinkedIn. So those one off connections matter.

In the last two years I’ve had the privilege to mentor eighteen new start up creative businesses as part of a new programme to encourage actors and musicians to create their own businesses. The Creative Entrepreneurs programme, an initiative of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, has provided access to training, networks and mentors for a range of diverse businesses, from a new theatre company to a community drumming project, all with scalable potential.

It’s been an amazing learning journey on both sides, but what has been noticeable for me is that most of the feedback from graduates on the scheme is linked to how useful they have found the access to real-life entrepreneurs, i.e. the network. Rather surprisingly these young entrepreneurs are often daunted by networking and it’s a key skill-set that is teachable. As Hunter Noack from re-form Productions says ‘the scheme has been a fantastic opportunity to get face-time with entrepreneurs, it helped turn my ideas into a sustainable business model.’

The Entrepreneur community is awash with ‘Celebrity’ Entrepreneurs, but as I reflect on the mentoring that I’ve just undertaken, it’s become ever more clear to me that we need to get a bit real. Undoubtedly, the most helpful support and advice comes from the active entrepreneur, a mentor that is actually doing it, or has been there and done it in the recent past. Generic business mentoring can have limited value and the most helpful input for start up and emerging entrepreneurs undoubtedly lies in the power of the network.

The level of introspection and personal development that comes with learning new skills and wanting to create a growth-business is a big challenge, and given the high-stakes, the role of a mentor undoubtedly comes also with the responsibility of some tough-love. It’s simply not in anyone’s interest to be too soft on challenging the development of an idea, as it’s the very livelihood of these entrepreneurs that is on the line. If it’s not going to work then you need to know at an early stage, so as not to waste too much time or money. And that’s also why having a trusted mentor that’s been there and done it, is completely essential.

So as we hear Election promises from the main parties about developing support structures for entrepreneurs that are so desperately needed, it occurs to me that the greatest investment possible could be in support for entrepreneurs that are active or have exited to become brilliant role models and mentors for entrepreneurs at all stages. The celebrity entrepreneur has limited real-life value, other than as an initial spur of motivation. It’s the real-life grafters and doers that should be supported and trained to encourage the would-be entrepreneur and to help extend networks.

I’ve been lucky enough this year to develop a programme in association with the Santander Breakthrough Programme for female entrepreneurs. In partnership with 20 high-growth female founders from around the UK, from the inspirational Jo Fish of Navigate to Liz Clarke of Bikeright – these 20 founders will support other female entrepreneurs in a tailored mentoring programme combined with a series of national networking events. The programme aims to help female founders fulfill their growth potential to create jobs and stimulate supply-chain demand via a programme of both capital and development support. It’s initiatives like this that will hopefully stimulate both demand and supply and really move forward the agenda on networking, helping ‘real-life’ entrepreneurs to achieve their aims and vision and more importantly seeing the power of ‘weak-tie’ acquaintances come to the fore.