Networking and the art of the pitch

Lisa Patel came by her entrepreneurial instincts honestly – she watched her parents build and then sell 18 businesses.

Over the years, Lisa Patel has watched her parents build and sell 18 businesses that ranged from promotional T-shirts to motels. So it’s no surprise she has a strong entrepreneurial streak of her own.

Growing up I knew I’d own my own business,” she says. “My parents raised four children and each of us worked in the family businesses. They taught us that ambitious people can have what they want in life.

Ms. Patel is owner of The Property Princess brand, associated with Royal Lepage Signature Realty, a residential and commercial real estate company based in The Shops at Don Mills in Toronto.

She is also an active member of the community and an award-winning volunteer with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF).

I discovered CYBF in 2005,” Ms. Patel says. “I read a newspaper article about them, picked up the telephone and gave them a call to find out how I could get involved. I’ve watched them grow and take entrepreneurs to the next level ever since.

As a CYBF volunteer, Ms. Patel helps budding entrepreneurs to understand the importance and nuances of networking.

Business today is all about connections, she says. Networking is a long-term process and the key is to establish relationships. But she says most people show up at an event, hand out as many cards as possible and think that’s all there is to it.

If you don’t connect, it doesn’t work,” Ms. Patel says. “It’s about meeting people and seeing how you can apply them to your business. And it’s about asking what you can do for them in return, which is something many people fail to do after getting help. It’s like dating – there has to be give and take.

Follow-up is critical, she says, citing a recent occasion where despite speaking with many people looking for business associations, none connected with her following the event. “It’s important to make connections that count and then follow up with a personal note to take the relationship to the next level.

Everything gets done through people,” says Kevin Schwenker, principal and founder of Schwenker & Associates, a Halifax-based management consulting company. “Entrepreneurs have passion but they don’t always know all that is needed to manage a business. That’s why networking is so important. It helps to fill the gaps, allowing a business to grow.

Mr. Schwenker has been an entrepreneur since his college days, more years ago than he cares to remember. He is also a volunteer mentor with CYBF and winner of the organization’s National Mentor of the Year Award.

A big part of networking is getting your message across, he says. That means developing and delivering an effective pitch that will help fulfill a need, while showing people that you have a purpose. He offers a number of useful tips to entrepreneurs:

  • Be concise and use plain language: As Albert Einstein once said, if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.
  • Explain why you do what you do: You will connect with more people if they know and understand your purpose.
  • Tell a story: Stories that explain your purpose and how you make a difference resonate with the listener and are remembered.
  • Start a conversation: It is important to understand the needs of the other person before telling them about your needs.

It’s about gaining trust and learning how you can help others,” he says. “The goal of networking should be to help other people – first. The right connection may not be with the first person you meet. But if you show genuine interest in what they have to say – understand their needs and help them – they will be interested in you and think about how they can open doors for you in return.

The advice offered by experienced business owners such as Mr. Schwenker and Ms. Patel is an important part of the networking support that CYBF provides to entrepreneurs aged 18 to 39.

Online resources include the Entrepeer Hub, a LinkedIn peer group with more than 1,375 entrepreneurs, mentors and experts who share their advice and experiences, and Entrepeer Vibe, a bi-weekly e-newsletter full of useful tips for those new and not so new to entrepreneurship. Connections can also be made in person at monthly Entrepeer Experience networking events held across the country.

• Lisa Patel came by her entrepreneurial instincts honestly – she watched her parents build and then sell 18 businesses.

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