Tool Kit

How Do You Build Your Network?

Author Aimee Dunne Published September 26, 2018

As an entrepreneur, you’ve heard about the importance of networking. Whether you’re finding your way in a new community, looking for volunteer opportunities or mapping your growth path, building your network will be instrumental. But how do you actually do it?


The short answer – a lot of coffee. But how you get to that coffee meeting and what you say when you’re there can make the difference between building a strong network and wasting a lot of time and $5 lattes. There are two outdated misconceptions that stop people from networking – the ick factor and the perfectionist’s dilemma.


Networking for Entrepreneurs


The ick factor 

For too long, networking has been associated with building your client list and collecting business cards. While this is still important in some fields, networking has become much less formal and… icky. Think of networking as an opportunity to talk about what is important to you, connect with others who share your interests and learn something you don’t know. Yes, you’re looking for something (an ally, a volunteer, a mentor, a client) but so are they, and you might as well do it together.



“Your best networking happens when you’re not talking.”


The perfectionist’s dilemma. 

There is no need to perfect your pitch before you start networking. If you try to wordsmith each sentence, you’ll just come out sounding like a robot, which is never a good thing. Instead, have a few main points about yourself in mind, set a goal for the event or interaction, and just talk. Networking is an excellent way to get feedback on your idea, growth path, even the story you’re telling. No robots allowed!


As you think about networking, you may realize you’re doing it already – when introducing yourself at the start of a meeting, at a conference, chatting with your neighbor and yes, at a networking event. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re doing it well:


– Give context. Help someone understand why you’re there (“I’m really interested in the program on technology and education”) and what your goal is (“I hope to form a board of advisors soon”).


– Ask questions. It is true that your best networking happens when you’re not talking. Ask about someone’s career path, what they love about their job, what they’re looking forward to in the coming year – and just learn.


– Be confident, but not arrogant. We know the difference, right? Be confident in your skills and in delivering your message, but watch the namedropping and other things that might make it seem like you don’t need anything at all.


– Know what you need. Building on the tip above, you should be asking for something. Not a million dollars for your business or a big introduction – those might come later. But have in mind something you’d like to learn, an organization you’d like to get involved in, or the types of people you’d like to meet.


– Passion and authenticity trumps all else. If you forget your pitch and everything you’ve practiced goes right out of your head, just be you. Most people respond to authenticity and passion, so talking about your interests and asking questions is always a good thing. You’ll do better the next time!


Networking allows you to tell your story in a way that connects you with others so that you can find the resources you need to move forward. No matter your goal, a good story will help you be remembered. So work on the details, hone the pitch, and consider the ask, but overall, tell your story.


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Roundtable: What is Your Super Power?

Author Published September 25, 2018

Roundtable: Certifiably Bad Ass (Fort Worth)

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Marketing Power Hours with Lourdes Brown

Author Published September 24, 2018

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Event Recap

Leveraging Your Woman-Owned Business Certification to Grow

Author Brazen Global Published September 19, 2018

You’ve done it! You’ve filled out stacks of paperwork, scheduled site visits, answered endless questions, waited patiently and you’re officially a certified woman-owned business. This is no easy feat, but what now? A woman-owned business certification is a great support for your business, but only if you leverage it smartly.


At a recent Brazen St. Louis event, we had the opportunity to sit down with three experts in women and minority owned business certifications — Pam Kuehling, Commissioner of Supply for the City of St. Louis Government, Jacinta Witherspoon of the Women’s Business Development Center, and Dr. Stephanie Smith, Manager of Supplier Diversity at Washington University in St. Louis. They offered four strategies for using your (hard-earned) certification to unlock growth.


Leveraging Your Woman-Owned Business Certification


Learn the Contacts and Required Certifications in Your Area

At many large government offices and corporations, there is a dedicated contact for supply and even supplier diversity.


“I buy everything from pencils to fire trucks – and yes, condoms – and we buy from about 2,000 vendors. I love to shop and would love to buy from you,” said Keuhling, underscoring the breadth of supply many government buyers are responsible for procuring.


Getting to know the contacts in your area is a key first step in developing your business. These contacts serve as a point person for large organizations and because their needs can vary widely over time, supply contacts meet with vendors regularly and keep detailed records of certified businesses for future needs. And, importantly, they share this information freely.


“The certification is an opportunity. Even if it isn’t a fit for us right now, we’ll direct you to someone who we know – other departments, partners, outside contacts and more. This is a way to open doors,” said Smith.


As valuable as it may be to know the contacts, it’s just as important to understand the certification needs of each. Your certification may not apply for a municipality or state requirements, and many have individualized systems. 


“The certification is long and drawn out, but once you do one, you’re all set to do all the others,” said Witherspoon. She recommends keeping a well-organized “corporate book” of your certification paperwork so that you can easily re-purpose to meet the needs of specific certifications.



Build the Relationship, but Don’t Lead with Your Certification

While many government and corporate organizations have M/WBE goals, having a certification does not necessarily make you a shoe-in to win the contract. As with any business relationship, it is still vital to know your target, their processes and put in the legwork to earn an opportunity.


Dr. Smith looks for vendors to meet with her in-person and tell her specifically what differentiates them from the competition. Keuhling echoed that she’ll give anyone a meeting, but she looks for vendors who do their homework and demonstrate they can deliver on her needs.


“You never want to lead with your WBE certification! Focus on your value first and your certifications second,” said Witherspoon. “Your certification is usually the icing on the cake.”


A certification can help you close the deal but is not a replacement for presenting a solid proposal.



Don’t be Deterred by Big Bids

As you build your relationships with corporate and government contacts, you may find that some open contracts are broader than the scope of your business or more than you can take on successfully. Don’t give up! In many cases you can bid on a part of a contract, rather than the whole thing.


Additionally, your M/WBE certification may offer you the opportunity to partner, as a sub-contractor, with competitors on a large bid. Yes, your competitors can help you unlock new business.


“The pie is big enough for all of us, you may just need to slice it differently. It’s okay to be the tier two vendor, if you’re getting business and working with a new company,” said Witherspoon.


In partnering with a competitor, you can strengthen your bid together, as your certification could make the proposal more appealing. This is an opportunity to get your foot in the door with a new organization.


“A percentage of something is better than none of it,” said Keuhling.



A Lost Bid is Not a Lost Opportunity

Losing is always tough, but remember that a lost bid is not a lost opportunity. Your certification is a chance to open doors.


“I knew a female architect who bid for small contract and it wasn’t a fit at the time, but we put her in touch with someone else on campus and today she’s working with teams on big projects around town,” said Smith.


Your contacts may not award a contract today, but they will remember you. The more supplier diversity professionals see you and the more you cultivate those relationships, the more opportunities you’ll find. Be patient and thoughtfully make connections.


“Certification isn’t easy, but once you have it, keep it. Even if I don’t have an immediate project, I’ll have an opportunity for you in the future,” concluded Smith.


While acquiring certifications and building relationships with supply contacts takes time, just remember, the hard work you put in today can be tomorrow’s growth for your business.


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Tool Kit

Do You Know Your Business Superpower?

Author Parissa Behnia Published September 12, 2018

What’s your superpower? What’s the magic that you bring to the table that makes your customers come back again and again?


It turns out that your business superpower is your value proposition. For definitional purposes, let’s establish what is and isn’t your Superpower.


What Is Your Business Super Power?



The connective tissue of your business. Your value proposition plays a key strategic role in the life and health of your business.


Your strategy’s GPS. I like to use Google Maps because I know it tells me the most efficient route to my destination. If traffic should change mid-route, it gives me a heads up and the choice to course correct based on what it sees in the environment. Similarly, your value proposition always tells you the best, most efficient route to achieve your business objectives.


Your backbone. There’s an expression that goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Your value proposition helps your business stand firmly in its power.



Your elevator pitch. Nope, it’s not. But, you can wordsmith your value proposition to be your elevator pitch. I do it and so do many others.


Your brand nor your brand essence. This would be like mixing apples and oranges. Your value proposition infuses the brand but it is not the same as the brand.


Your sales and marketing messaging. Your value proposition lives at a broader, more strategic level of your business whereas sales and marketing are more execution oriented. If you were to mix them or equate them, you would miss the forest for the trees.



This is all well and good, you might be thinking. But, what are the ingredients of a value proposition such that it really is that Superpower? It has four:


– A keen understanding of your customer(s). A crystal clear picture of your customer segment(s) is a great first step in creating a solid value proposition that you can have for the long haul.


– A solid grasp of their pains. This is hyper critical. Some pains are headaches and yet others are migraines. People have more emotional attachment and willingness to solve the migraines and not the headaches. Make certain that what you have diagnosed is the migraine.


– A core solution that is the reliever of the pains. Baby aspirin won’t fix a migraine. Make sure you’ve developed the right painkiller for that migraine.


– A solid belief in how you are the best choice. This is about knowing your competition and knowing what and how your offering is superior to theirs.



And, companies who have a solid lock on their value proposition tend to stick around for the long haul. Why is this so? Well, your Superpower infuses and influences every single part of your business model as depicted in this image. It’s why I call it the connective tissue and the spine of your business.


Parissa Behnia


Companies that execute their business strategies in alignment with their Superpower are everywhere. Target, Apple, Costco, Amazon and Toms are good examples. There are any number of other good examples that you can think of, too.


And, yes, there are really good examples of companies that suffer because they don’t live up to their Superpower potential or maybe their Superpower is weak or missing. Sears is one such example and Uber is another.



There are some easy to spot symptoms of a missing or a weak Superpower. A company typically needs to shore up, fix or redevelop a Superpower if it is experiencing the following :


– Flat or lower revenues

– Fewer sales leads

– Qualifying the wrong sales leads

– Can’t close sales

– Customers aren’t coming back

– Stiffer competition

– Tepid investor interest

– Low employee morale

– Rising costs

– Poor margins / profits

– Shopping cart abandon

– Higher site bounce rate

– Poor brand reputation

– And many others


A word to the wise: there may be a temptation to treat a symptom as the main business problem only. Do yourself (and your business) a favor by resisting that urge and doing the work to discover the root cause of the symptom – typically a missing or weak Superpower.



Some of you may be wondering how long it may take to draft a Superpower statement that really does a great job of including those four ingredients highlighted above. It may take a few times to arrive at one that really knocks it out of the park not only in terms of how factual it is but also how authentic it may feel for you.


In other words, it’s an agile and iterative process not unlike how you may have adopted agile and iterative methods to build and grow your business. Take your time to make it right for you, your business and your customer.


CEOs of funded startups and growth stage companies use Parissa as their secret strategic weapon when they are ready to accomplish some pretty heady goals: new customers, beating back the competition, better customer retention, etc. They are often at a strategic crossroads and are tired of running their businesses with a series of individual plays as opposed to a gameplan. Parissa offers strategy coaching and consulting services and work side by side to help them set and conquer goals to drive to their definition of success.


Looking for more expert resources? Check out Brazen Power Hours.

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Member Event: Going Big! Building Your Team with Iditarod Racer, Karen Ramstead

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Roundtable: Building a Sales Pipeline Through Digital Strategies (Dallas)

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Finance/ Raising $ Power Hours with Christina Anderson

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