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Starting a New Business: Doing Your Homework on People, Places, and Events

This chapter provides networking and industry research tips for anyone starting a new business, especially those in a new city or area.
This chapter is from the book

Oh, no! What did I do? I helped my wife, Heather, load up all our belongings and our 3-month-old daughter and 14-month-old son to move down to Tennessee from Toronto. I don’t know anyone down there. I don’t have a job lined up, and I have no one to help me land on my feet. Okay, Delaney. It’s time to get serious.

We stored our belongings and moved in with my in-laws in Jackson, Tennessee. It was up to me to network intensively so that we could eventually make the move from my in-law’s home in Jackson to our own home in Nashville.

I spent the bulk of my days in Jackson at a local coffee shop with free Wi-Fi. As many early entrepreneurs will agree, coffee shops with free Wi-Fi are essential to growing a business. Of course, the caffeine helps, too. Without a great coffee shop to go to, it’s easy to get distracted by family or a roommate at home.

I researched job openings in all the regular places online: Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, HotJobs.com, and Craigslist.com. These sites are good for finding some positions, but they are not optimal for everyone. I was getting nowhere, growing frustrated, and contemplating my career thus far.

In Toronto, I had built my career in the marketing industry. When we left Toronto, I was working in marketing and promotions for CanWest Media Works—specifically, Global Television. I’ll tell you more about how I ended up at one of Canada’s largest television networks in Chapter 2, “It Starts with a Coffee.”

I knew I wanted to work in marketing for a media company in Nashville, but I could not find open positions listed on the job sites for these types of companies. I knew I would have to find another way. I realized that to find a job in Nashville, I would have to learn everything I could about the appropriate companies and people there. As you read my story, think about where you want to be. Take a moment to jot down some ideas.

I have always been interested in building community and connecting online. The Internet has given us the freedom to create amazing content and share and shape it openly. We live in a time when we can easily research the companies and people we want to connect with. Branding ourselves online is a perfect way to get the ball rolling.

It occurred to me that I had been blogging about marketing and culture since 2004. I realized that a blog was going to be a key way for me to do my homework about who and what was waiting for me in Nashville. I often tell students that they should start a blog before they graduate, because they are being taught and creating valuable information that is worth sharing. By starting a blog, you establish yourself.

When I first moved to Tennessee in January 2007, and started job hunting, I launched a blog called “New Media Nashville.” As I mentioned, the purpose was to educate myself about Nashville’s new media space. This included traditional media like print, radio, and television, but it also included new media like blogs, social networks, and podcasts. I needed to do extensive research to find the people and companies I wanted to connect with in my job hunt. I shared my findings on my blog to not only record my research, but to also establish myself in the community.

I spent countless hours researching local blogs, newsgroups, forums, newspapers, radio, and television stations. Google was my really good friend as I discovered stories related to Nashville’s new media community.

Research was key to writing about Nashville’s new media market on New Media Nashville. Keeping in mind that I didn’t know a soul, I realized it would be best to learn about the companies I wanted to work for first. Researching the people I needed to connect with would be next, followed by local events I should attend.

I began with a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of my networking. My downloadable spreadsheet can be found at http://bit.ly/NBNsimpledb. Yours doesn’t have to be complicated. Mine wasn’t. I suggest the following sections:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Email
  • Company Name
  • Company Address
  • Company URL
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • How Can I Help Them?
  • How Can They Help Me?
  • Meeting Status
  • Outcome
  • Follow-Up

Not only did I learn a lot about Nashville, but I began to get my name out to people in the community before I had even moved there. By blogging about Nashville, I was learning about the companies and people I wanted to meet. Blogging isn’t for everyone, but having your space on the Web is. In Chapter 3, “Your Home on the Web Needs More Than a Welcome Mat,” I’ll write more about how to carve your space on the Web.

It was from writing my blog and having my place on the Web for potential employers to check me out that I found a full-time job (more about this in Chapter 2). However, the job didn’t come until after I had spent plenty of time in face-to-face networking. Meeting people and growing your network is key to finding work, new clients, investors, and anyone else who will help you gain control over your career. An important bonus to actively growing your network is the friendships that occur. Without doing the work of finding interesting people, your paths may never cross otherwise.

Job Tips

Whether you are looking for a new job, graduating from college, finding investors for your start-up, or seeking clients for your business, you must know who is out there, or you are a ship without a sail. Begin by researching the companies that you want to work for or do business with.

There are a number of resources that you can tap into to discover the companies around you:

  • Your local area Chamber of Commerce is a good starting point. An array of different businesses all support chambers, many of which are publicly available on the chamber’s site.
  • Trade associations list businesses that are specific to an industry. The United States alone has more than 7,600 trade associations.1 Wikipedia lists many of them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_industry_trade_groups_in_the_United_States.
  • Check out small business associations. The U.S. Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov/) is a good resource. Also see the National Federation of Independent Business at www.nfib.com/.
  • Look at who sponsors local events you are interested in. Once you find ones you want to explore, take note of who the sponsors are. Sponsors sponsor for a reason. They want to hear from you.
  • Hoovers.com is a massive database of company and industry information. Portions are behind a paywall, but the free search is worth using to learn more about the companies you are interested in.
  • Search for articles about the companies and your industry in your local paper and online.
  • Read trade publications.
  • Ask your friends and family for their recommendations.
  • Google the industry you want to work in and the city you live in. For example: “advertising agency + Nashville.”
  • Visit your library, and ask a librarian for help with your quest to compile a list of advertising agencies in Nashville.
  • Search for related groups and businesses on LinkedIn. You can find groups under the navigation bar. From there, choose Groups You May Like, or do a deeper search using Groups Directory. I will explain this further in Chapter 4, “Grow Your Network Before You Need It: LinkedIn.”
  • Attend local events related to your industry. I will elaborate on how to find these events in a moment.

Take note of the companies you want to work for or do business with, and add them to your spreadsheet. Your next step is to determine who it is you need to meet with at each company. If you want to work for the company, you need to meet the human resources manager or a senior-level person. If you want to do business with the company, you should try to learn who manages the department or company so you can speak to the decision maker.

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