Positive attitudes!

I was fortunate enough to attend the Business in Parliament event at Holyrood last week. It was an incredibly friendly and uplifting experience, well attended by politicians of all hues and many business people, representing their own companies and business organisations. I took four young entrepreneurs along with me, all winners of SIE’s competitions, and all were made extremely welcome. They certainly made the most of the networking opportunity!

The Debating Chamber

The conference is designed as an opportunity for politicians and business people to get to know each other better, and for businesses to share their experience and opinions with the MSPs. The theme for this year was “The importance of entrepreneurship and internationalisation to promote economic growth” and so was a theme that had great relevance to me.

During dinner, I sat next to an MSP who told me a great deal about the workings of the Scottish Parliament, especially the role of the cross-party working committees, who do a lot of great work, mostly behind the scenes. It seems that there is a great deal of collaboration in the Scottish Parliament, which is encouraging to hear about.

The highlight of the event, however, was undoubtedly the inspirational speech given by Sir Tom Hunter. He emphasised the importance of having a ‘can do’ attitude and a global outlook, not just in business but in politics too. He talked about the importance of education, and the need for education at all levels to be grounded in the needs of business. He made us realise what Scotland has achieved, not just in the past but in the present too, and how these recent achievements and attributes are recognised around the world. There is an undoubted tendency in Scotland to underplay what we can do; we need to know that, in reality if ‘some Pow’r the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!’ we would actually see ourselves in a more positive light. 

We must all take confidence in our abilities. As individuals, we are highly educated; many of Scotland’s companies may be small, but that makes us fast and responsive. And in the modern world, those attributes can make us world beating!

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So many communications channels!

I’ve been really bad at writing blog posts in the past few months. There are two main reasons for that, and I’m sure most of my readers will identify with them.

First, its a real challenge for me to think about subjects to write about. Can I really say anything that hasn’t already been said in another blog, often far more eloquently that me. And so I tend to simply retweet a good blog.

Second, when I am inspired to write something, I don’t seem to have time to sit down at my computer and write it properly. And I really hate seeing myself on the rare occasions that I try to do a video blog. So what should I do? Well, I think I may have found a solution in audioblogging, via audioboo All you have to do is talk into your phone, and it only allows you 3 minutes, so you don’t need to think too much about it.  I’m probably a bit slow on the uptake, as lots of my twitter pals are already there, and its interesting to hear the voices of the people I’ve been following.

Its not ideal, however. The main disadvantage I can see is that it is a broadcast medium that doesn’t easily engage discussion. I’m going to persevere, however, as I think its a good addition to my social media mix.

I’ve also been exploring video as a means of covering events. I’ve spent quite a few hours this weekend at Startup Weekend Glasgow, and I helped out by interviewing people, using my phone video camera.

Have a wee look and listen to what I’ve done so far and let me know what you think by adding your comment and by filling in my poll. The videos are on http://www.moviecom.tv/startupweekendglasgow and the audioblogs are on http://audioboo.fm/FionaGo

Once you have listened to my wee broadcast on aodioboo, browse the channels and see how the professionals do it – BBCR4 are there too.

Come to think about it, I did want to be a journalist when I was at school….

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Social Media Etiquette (or TMI?)

When you are out in the ‘real world’, talking to someone face to face, it is relatively easy to gauge how you should behave in the situation you find yourself in  (at least it is for most of us). Its very likely that we would behave differently in different situations, such as having beer and pizza with a group of close friends, attending a business networking event, or at a formal dinner.   It’s possible that you could find yourself with some of the same people at these different events, but would the tone of the conversation be the same? I doubt it.

I do believe that we should be honest in our dealings with people (be yourself, in other words), but I also believe in the importance of self-censoring, ensuring your behaviour and language is appropriate for the circumstances.

Shouldn’t it be the same with social media?

I use LinkedIn and Twitter a lot; both are ‘social media’ but they are very different. I’m used to people posting updates on twitter as much as 20 times a day, and that is fine. I like to hear about their day (sometimes!), and I am interested in the links they share. I learn a lot about a wide range of topics, from education to politics, to technology and even a bit of gossip.  Twitter is a club with many rooms, and I choose which ones to visit using tools like Tweetdeck.  But with LinkedIn, I’m always in business mode, and I want to see just a few, highly relevant work related updates.

And yet some people use these spaces indiscriminately, and every thought they think or link they want to share gets posted automatically on both networks. Well, as far as I am concerned, linking your LinkedIn updates to your Twitter feed is lazy and results in far ‘Too Much Information’, that overwhelms my LI home page and blocks the information that I really want to see there.

It seems I’m not alone in being annoyed by this, in fact I have yet to find anyone that likes the constant stream of twitter updates that some people post on LI. Frustrated by yet another day of excessive postings, I posted this on LI “LinkedIn is NOT the same as twitter. Please, please, please disconnect your twitter posts from LI!” I was overwhelmed with responses, all strongly in agreement. A few people pointed out the benefits of cross posting in reaching a wider audience, but they emphasised the importance of relevance, and of not taking an undiscriminating approach.  Some people are saying that they are starting to ‘unfriend’ people that persist in these activities, whilst others are hiding* updates from certain individuals. Is this what you want to happen to you? There must be a better way of sharing. If you come across an interesting article on Twitter that you want to share on LinkedIn, why not share it in a relevant LI group? It takes a little more effort, but it reaches a much more targeted audience.  That’s surely better than losing the attention of valuable contacts through overzealous sharing?

What do you think?

*Here’s a useful tip to get rid of the chatterboxes from your LI home page. You can simply hide their updates, by hovering over their update and clicking on the ‘hide’ link that appears in the right hand corner of their update (look closely, its grey and not easy to see).

Posted in Communicating, networks, Social Media | 5 Comments

Statistics; a bit of reflection on my 2011 blog

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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With a great community exciting things happen!

I’ve just come back from the launch of a really exciting new venture, Entrepreneurial Spark ! Its going to be great, because an amazing community of people will make it great, catalysed by the enthusiasm and tenacity of Jim Duffy.

Since taking over the role of CEO of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE) last year, I’ve been discovering a whole new community of people involved in the Scottish entrepreneurial landscape.  At the beginning, I wondered where to start. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know what organisations were out there, and it felt strange walking into rooms full of faces I didn’t recognise.  I discovered very quickly that it didn’t matter who I spoke to, however, as long as I spoke to someone.  As soon as I explained who I was, and what SIE were trying to do (turn students into entrepreneurs and support them), I got the same response; “How can I help?” and  “You should also speak to xyz (naming people & organisations); let me introduce you“.

18 months ago, I had around 400 LinkedIn contacts, from a decade in the global life sciences industry. Now I have nearly 800 connections, thanks to all the new people I have met and who want to help and support me and SIE. These people include young student entrepreneurs, university teaching staff, people from great not-for-profit organisations and many successful business people.

When I need help, I know I can talk to any one of these people; they may not be able to help me solve a particular problem, but they will tell me someone who can! This is the power of a great community. They are willing and able to help, but sometimes a little Entrepreneurial Spark is needed to provide ignition.

Posted in Entrepreneurial, networks, Start-ups | Leave a comment

Too busy to blog!

Wow, there is a lot going on at the moment! I’ve just come back from a great conference for entrepreneurship educators in Cardiff www.ieec.co.uk where I met a lot of fantastic people and got some great ideas. Tomorrow I’m heading out to Riga, Latvia, for another entrepreneurial education conference, entitled ‘Releasing Creative Energy’. I’m sure that I will come back from that full of energy and even more ideas!

Here at SIE we are preparing to welcome our new team members, our 20 student interns, who will be championing enterprise and entrepreneurship across all of Scotland’s higher education institutions. We are planning a fantastic series of activities and events spread across the academic year, so make sure you follow us on twitter @_sie_ , Facebook www.facebook.com/scottishinstituteforenterprise and on our own web site www.sie.ac.uk for all the latest news. (Our Facebook page has a sneak preview of some of our new marketing materials, which look amazing!)

I’ve been following the debate on some great articles too, on the state of entrepreneurship in Scotland, and on the lack of women at higher levels in technology companies. I will definitely be blogging on these topics soon!

But first I need to go and pack my bag for Riga…..

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Making the most of conferences

Escape the virtual world for a while
Despite the rise of hi-tech conferencing methods such as web seminars, nothing beats the real live experience of attending a conference. Whether you are a new company needing to generate your first few customers, an entrepreneur contemplating starting a new business,  or a seasoned delegate, speaker or exhibitor, attending the right conference will bring you tremendous benefits.

Why attend a conference?
There are many reasons that you will benefit from attending a conference; learning about the latest developments in your field, hearing influential keynote speakers and finding out about new technologies  are some of the obvious benefits. The single most important reason for attending a conference, however, is to meet people who will benefit your business. You may ask why you should bother meeting people face to face? After all, modern communications technology makes it possible to develop good working relationships with people we have never met.  No matter how good a virtual relationship may be, however, connections made in person will always be stronger.  And a conference venue full of like-minded people is a great way to start.

Choosing the Right Conference
Attending a big international conference can be exhilarating, but you may find that a smaller, more focussed event will be more useful. Think about the people you want to meet, and whether the conference will facilitate these meetings. Annual conferences are usually worth attending, but specialist conferences can also be very good, and may actually be better. You may find that there are scores of meetings that look relevant to your business, so ask friends, colleagues or customers for their recommendations of meetings they have attended. Check out where the competitors are going to be too, though don’t worry if they are attending something you have ruled out. They might not be as targeted as you in their approach.

Finding the ‘right’ people
Meeting the right people at a conference should not be left to chance; you need to do a bit of homework before you go. Contact the people you would like to meet at least a week before you go, and ask if you can get together with them at the conference. If you are lucky, you will have access to a delegate list beforehand. If not, then you will at least be able to see who is speaking and presenting posters.  It’s not all about meeting new people either, it can be a great opportunity to get to know existing contacts better, so tell people you know that you are attending the conference. Ask your contacts to make introductions to new people for you too. And don’t forget about social media, is there a twitter #hashtag for the conference? If not, create one yourself, but make it obvious and short (and remember that some industries people are not as twitter savvy as you are, so don’t worry if the twitterverse is quiet about the event, it doesn’t mean that the event will be quiet).

Partnering opportunities
Many conferences now offer the chance to participate in formal partnering sessions. They may seem a bit like being set up with a blind date but, if you plan carefully, they can be very productive. Don’t just choose people because they look important; think carefully about who you want to meet and why, then send them a targeted invitation to meet. Bigger companies often register a number of ‘technology scouts’ at partnering events and, if you are able to meet them, they can provide you useful contacts at their company as well as advise you on the right approach to take with their colleagues.  When asking people to meet with you, you should make your invitation relevant to the recipient. You can write some standard introductory ‘copy and paste’ text to save time, but be very careful that you adapt the wording for each invitation. Set aside plenty of time to trawl through the names on the partnering list, and don’t be too disheartened if you don’t get prompt responses. It’s usually a bit of a waiting game, as people wait to hear from people they invited to connect with first.  However there is always a flurry of activity as the deadline for partnering approaches. Don’t be obliged to accept every invitation you are sent, but do give them a polite, relevant reason for turning them down, as you might bump into them at some point over the conference.

Presenting a Poster
It’s often worth submitting a paper or abstract, as there is a good chance that your submission will be accepted as a poster presentation and you may even get accepted for an oral presentation. Whether an individual or a company, this is a great way of getting published and promoting your work. You will have to pay a registration fee for attending the meeting, even if you are presenting a poster, but you can usually submit your abstract first and register once it is accepted. Make sure that you have a few copies of your poster to give out as people often ask for a copy. Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards too.

At the Conference
Check out the programme to make sure you know which talks are most relevant, especially if the conference has several tracks. If you don’t want to raise your hand during the formal Q&A, do approach the speaker later on, as they are always willing to talk about their work and may be able to give you some expert advice. Exhibiting companies can also be a great source of information and help, so make time to have a look around and talk to some of them – don’t just think of the exhibition as a place to grab a free pen! Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards, and give them out.

Networking
Don’t be scared of the networking events. The clue is in the name, people attend because they want to meet new people and the person you chat to over a glass of wine could be a useful contact in the future. This is an opportunity to chat to people in a more social setting, and the conversation should be more social than business. If having a social chat in this environment seems more daunting than giving a presentation to an audience of hundreds, then don’t worry, you are not alone in thinking like that. Good topics to start with could be travel and places, as most people will have travelled from different places to attend the conference!   You should still be able to chat a little bit about your work and what you are looking for, but keep it light and organise to contact them later if you want to discuss something in more detail. Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards, they are especially important for networking events. (Never hand out brochures at networking events: its hard enough juggling wine glasses and plates of food, and no-one wants a hard sell!). The formal networking events are often held in great venues and it might be the only chance you have to get out of the conference venue and see something of the city you are visiting. Relax and enjoy the venue and the networking,  but DO NOT drink too much of the free wine.

If You are Exhibiting
Don’t take too much literature, as you will only have to ship it all back again! It’s better to take a few sample copies of catalogues etc. and mail them out after the meeting, though a small company overview brochure is useful to take in bulk. Take plenty of business cards though (have I mentioned that already?) A prize draw is a good way of encouraging people to stop at your booth and it needn’t be expensive. A bottle of malt whisky is always popular, and makes a good talking point too as you shouldn’t always jump straight to the hard sell! Work out a booth schedule so that everyone has a chance to go to talks or look round the exhibition. If you are on your own, don’t feel you have to be tied to your stand, but make sure you are there for the busy times. You might want to ask a neighbouring exhibitor to keep an eye on your stand for a while, in case anyone comes looking for you. Don’t just rely on people coming to your stand; make sure you attend all the networking events to maximise your chances of meeting the right people. Finally, never take your stand down until the official break-down!

Home Again
Phew, you are exhausted but you survived, and now you can relax, right? Wrong! Returning home, make sure that you follow up on all the contacts you have made and send out all the information that you promised. If you don’t follow up on promising leads, then you have wasted your time and money attending the conference. (And if you didn’t get a chance to speak to the keynote speaker, or anyone else that you had hoped to meet,  it’s not too late to send them an email, but do it quickly.)

Do let me know what you think about this article, via the comments section below. Have you any questions or advice to share?

Posted in Conferences, Entrepreneurial, Go for it!, networks, Sales, Start-ups | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments