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Your Value Proposition

“I don’t usually send an unsolicited invitation, but I saw your recent news release and knew you would be a good networking contact.”

That was an “invite” a perfect stranger sent to me on social media this week.

The very next day, I received another invite from someone else I didn’t know:

“I appreciated your recent news release. I would also appreciate connecting with you; I believe I have a good skill set and great connections that might help you and your companies in the field of IT. I would welcome the opportunity to connect.”

Which request do you think I answered?

You know — the one with the value proposition. (That would be the second request, in case you missed it.)

Yes, I know, you think I have a “what’s in it for me” (aka “ WIIFM “) attitude — well, maybe I do. But we live in a busy world, and, frankly, it’s all about the sale. Now you know I don’t mean that, but what I do recognize is the “give and take” advantage of networking and relationships.

I find (especially on LinkedIn®, but it could be any social media outlet) the overwhelming majority of people contact me either for a job (as in “I need a job,” “I’m unemployed,” “I’m unhappy here,” “I’m looking to advance my career”) or to become their client (as in they’re a consultant who wants me to hire them because “I can help you,” “I can help your incubator companies,” etc.). I also get requests to just “network” with folks.

With the advent of social media, “networking” has become a casual term, a process of clicking a button and sending out a pre-written note, often to people who are a “friend of a friend of a friend.” Sometimes I become a statistic — just an addition to the pile for those who crave having a large number of “hits” and “connections” and “likes” and “mentions,” “re-tweets,” “forwards” and all the other electronic terms that give significance to, well, someone or something.

We make “friends” (actually, we just make contact of a sort) with people we barely know (or people we don’t even know). We “add contacts” dangerously, clicking “accept” on people we do not know and people who have one contact in common with us.

What will these vague, distant contacts do for us? Usually, not a thing — we connect and never hear from them again. They’re just numbers (as we are to them). However, more often than not, these “connections” want something from us — as mentioned, they seek employment or want to sell services. They are networking because they are unemployed, unhappy in their present job or simply want to better themselves; or, on the other hand, they have their own consulting firm and want to lend their expertise to my companies and me.

And nothing’s wrong with that — we’ve all networked to find a job, and the majority of good jobs are obtained through networking. Safe to say, as well, that over the years I’ve hired some excellent consultants, who were well-versed in their areas of expertise and who have provided outstanding service to me.

However, when does this “blind networking” become more of a burden then an asset? Is this fair to say? I believe it is, and I believe it becomes more of an issue when the “networker” does not have a value proposition.

What does it take to have a value proposition?

First, it takes FORESIGHT — the foresight to let people know why you are contacting them and what you have to offer (in exchange for what you want). You need to present your value proposition up front, or otherwise it is very easy for the recipient to just hit “delete” and move on.

Next, it takes RESEARCH — research about whom you wish to connect, such as what their needs are and what they truly offer you.

It also takes EFFORT — yes, it’s easy just to “hit the connect” button and to use the “canned response,” but if you put out a little effort — talk about yourself, your situation, and especially your value proposition — you’re more likely to get noticed and helped.

Do you really want to network? Stop sending unsolicited, blind, effortless invitations and fine-tune your value proposition. Present it proudly, confidently and — in return — ask for their value proposition.

You should approach every potential contact similar to how you approach a job interview — with foresight, research and effort — then your contact will be twice as valuable.

Try it — you’ll like it, and so will your new contacts.

Mark Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues around the world. He shares his experience, outlook, background knowledge, studies, and observations in regular posts at the IncubatorBlogger. Feel free to follow him there — or follow him and UF Innovate right here.

University of Florida Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the laboratory to the market, fostering a resilient economy and making the world a better place. Based at one of the nation’s leading research institutions, UF Innovate comprises four organizations: Tech Licensing, Ventures and two business incubators, Sid Martin Biotech and The Hub. Within the UF Office of Research, the three organizations form a comprehensive system to take technologies from the lab to the public, bringing together the five critical elements in the “innovation ecosystem”: facilities, capital, management talent, intellectual property and technology-transfer expertise.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on January 11, 2018.

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UF Innovate

UF Innovate

Tech Licensing, Ventures, Pathways, and Accelerate, which includes two business incubators, The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. We build business on innovation.