Over the past two weeks, I have met at least 70 entrepreneurs through Ashoka Africa, the All African Conference on Social Entrepreneurship, and most recently at our launch of the Afri-love Connection Club in Mombasa.
One thing that has really stuck out for me in these experiences is that entrepreneurs worldwide really struggle to get their stories out to the world.
And it bothers me.
If you and your business remain the best kept secret, you’ll never get customers.
And without customers, your business won’t survive.
why you’re the best kept secret
Talking about almost anything comes pretty natural to me.
I have little hesitation in talking to strangers, online or offline. I thrive off hearing and sharing stories.
But I know this is not the case for many people.
And from working with entrepreneurs around the world since 2013, I’ve identified some common reasons why.
1. you’re shy
This I get. I get shy too 🙂 And sometimes I don’t really like being around people, particularly in large groups.
There have been plenty of times that I’ve not make the best use of conferences and events because I just don’t feel like talking.
But I also recognise how important it is to talk to people about what we do. That’s how opportunities come about. How we learn valuable information. How we make a contact who could shape the course of our business. And I have experienced all of these benefits when I’ve opened my mouth!
So we have to just keep trying! With time and practice, all things become easier.
Some ways that I’ve combated shyness include:
bringing along a friend or colleague for moral support
identifying specific people you want to speak to and what you want to speak to them about
setting a target for the number of people you want to speak to, even if it’s just one
understanding your desired outcome from a conversation / event / conference / etc.
2. you lack clarity yourself
Sometimes shyness actually is a side effect of not really knowing what to say. And when you lack clarity in your message, several things are likely to happen.
You might remain quiet and don’t say anything at all.
Or you might say something, but it comes out tangled up and unstructured.
Or maybe you even talk for ages, but the person you’re speaking to still doesn’t understand.
I tend to be more patient than others and give people a chance. Plus I tend to ask some more questions to understand.
But you can’t expect others to be generous with their attention.
You only have one chance to make a first impression. To get super clear on your message, check out this earlier post.
3. you’re afraid someone will steal your idea
Yes, sometimes people steal ideas.
But, an idea is just an idea until it is executed. Execution is what will turn an idea into a sustainable business.
I truly believe that there are greater benefits to be had by talking about your idea than by remaining the best kept secret.
Talking about your idea to potential customers…
leads to insights you haven’t considered on your own. These insights will enhance your product or service, possibly getting you to a viable business model faster than if you tried to do it on your own.
Sharing your idea with potential collaborators…
opens up opportunities that you never imagined. Sometimes you find that you share a similar passion as another, and that can lead to really amazing things.For example, a conversation online with MombasaWorks a couple months back led us to a super successful event last week to launch the Afri-love Connection Club in Mombasa.
If we hadn’t shared what we were up to, we would be doing all the organising on our own, in a city far away from home, to a network we hadn’t yet developed.
Talking about your idea to an objective ear…
provides a perspective which pushes you more than you may push yourself, helps you to think about things from a new angle and teaches you things you don’t already know. Find people you trust and whose opinions you value and let yourself be challenged from time to time.
4. you fear rejection & embarassment
Sometimes things don’t work out as we plan.
People say no.
It takes longer than we anticipate.
We waste money.
We make mistakes.
You can choose how much or how little to share of your own journey. And you can choose who you share it with.
I know what it’s like to have those closest to me not fully support or understand my vision. And it can be both frustrating and lonely!
But these are our choices. Our dreams. Our futures. And we have to do this for ourselves.
Talk to people who are willing to listen. If you have a coach or mentor, be honest with them! It doesn’t matter if you haven’t made as much progress or if you have “nothing to show”.
One conversation can change everything.
surround yourself with people who get it
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. It takes a special breed of crazy to find satisfaction from uncertainty, instability and consistent hard work.