How to Unlock the Support Your Business Needs
Your corporate counterparts do it and so do entrepreneurs at venture- and angel-backed companies. They get other people—sponsors—to open doors for them.
How sponsors benefit entrepreneurs
In the corporate world, a sponsor is someone higher up in the organization, someone with clout and influence, who helps you climb the corporate ladder by getting you choice assignments or promotions and talking you up. Sponsors are not mentors. Mentors give advice and moral support but don’t have “juice.”
For an entrepreneur, a sponsor is an investor, client or colleague who has influence and is willing to use it to help you get what you need to grow your business, whether that is a big contract, a good word with an investor or a speaking engagement at a high-profile conference. Mentors teach you how to do something; sponsors help you use what you learned.
Angels and venture capitalists often take on the role of sponsor. After all, if they invest in you, they want you to succeed. But only a few companies are venture- or angel-backed, so how do the rest of them find sponsors?
A source of sponsors
Like everything else about growing a business, finding a sponsor requires strategic thinking. And one of the best strategies is to join a professional association. Researcher Athena Vongalis-Macrow, of Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, laid out five questions to answer when choosing a professional association to help you move ahead.
- Do the members have resources and knowledge?
- Are they willing to share their knowledge?
- How often and how professionally do they communicate?
- Does the network help its members overcome challenges?
- Are the people in the group movers and shakers?
How do I get the sponsor I need?
Sponsors don’t just come up and tap you on the shoulder. You need to attract them. Here’s how:
- Research who might be a good sponsor for you, with clout in an area in which you may need help.
- Build relationships with people who might sponsor you in different ways. The key word here is “build.” Don’t jump into an ask without a relationship.
- Give back. Make the relationship mutually beneficial.
- Deliver on your commitments. Show that you are reliable and a good bet.
- Say “yes” to opportunities, even if they are a little scary. If offered a chance to speak at a conference, overcome your stage fright and do it.
If you show sponsors that you are willing and able to do what it takes to succeed, you’ll find the ones you need.