Editor’s note: “The Angel Connection” is a regular feature in WRAL Local Tech Wire. LTW asked consultant Bill Warner to share advice for entrepreneurs seeking angel investors and/or venture capital investment. He is chairman of the Triangle Accredited Capital Forum, an angel investor network with over 100 members throughout the Southeast.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – We have all heard the old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well, there is a lot to be said about that. But, probably more importantly, you should ask “who knows you?”

Look back on the business you have won recently, or current investors in your company, or key business alliances you now have. How many of these came through referrals that started with someone you know, versus a cold call to a prospect or an inquiry directly to you or through your website? Like many of the business people I meet, the majority of their business relationships come by referral.

With more and more people on the job market, finding the next opportunity is also a matter of who you know. Your next job may be just a hand shake away. By meeting people and impressing upon them what you offer as a professional in your field increases your chances of getting your next job.

The issue with creating a strong referral base is that the networking required to create it takes a lot of time and there doesn’t seem to be much immediate result. Nevertheless, why is it a good idea to spend time on this anyway?

Some people call this networking. I call it networking with a value added purpose. Every time you meet with someone, be prepared and have an objective in mind. Provide value to the people you network with and you will get many times that value in return. This is not a series of one-time events. It’s a constant drum beat of value added communication with your network, enabling them to remember you first when they see an opportunity that fits your business.

To learn networking skills from some guys with strong global networks, I highly recommend the Secrets of Effective Networking workshop. This half-day workshop put on by my friends at Big Think will give you tools and insight into networking that few others can teach. They’ll tell you how they increased their networks rapidly and globally, and how you can, too. To find out more and sign up, go to

Be in a position to win

Jim Valvano, when asked how he won the NCAA basketball championship, simply said that “he always tried to be in a position to win. “He didn’t always win, but he aggressively created situations that gave him the potential to win. By intelligently pursuing these situations he often won big. In business, we have to create situations that will put us in a position of winning new business relationships or winning your next job.

Fundamentally, this means you have to be referable. The more people in the business community that know you, have respect for you, and are willing to tell others, the greater are your chances of winning new business, or your next job. Being referable means that:

• Business people know who you are

  • Customers
  • Investors
  • Competitors
  • Service providers
  • Consultants
  • Recruiters
  • Suppliers
  • Potential alliance partners
  • Industry influencers
  • Media

• What you do is understood in simple terms
• The value you create is easily explained
• Your positive reputation precedes you

Having the business community know these things about you and your business, increases the chances that they will tell others, thus giving you a chance to win a new business relationship.

How to become referable

Becoming referable is a long term and continuous activity where you take all reasonable opportunities to meet people and get them to know what you are all about. This has to be done in a sincere and thoughtful way and with the attitude that you will give some of yourself before you expect anything in return. Here are some typical actions you can take to become lastingly referable:

• Take the time to meet business leaders in your industry by simply having a casual meeting with them where you are sincerely interested in learning about their business; not hyping your wares. Make a habit of this, knowing that some day in the future you might need their help or need a new job. Find a way to help them in some simple way and do it without asking for a favor in return. Most of them will ask you what they can do for you without you ever asking them. Don’t worry. The favor you have done will come back to you later as a referral.
• Find ways to keep the drum beating about you and your business. This can be done with a newsletter, industry articles, blogs, speaking engagements and simply showing up at networking events where you meet people in your referral network. In a value added way, people have to be constantly and consistently reminded about you and your business. Just like search engine optimization keeps you high on the first page of a search, this keeps you high on their list of the people who could refer you to a new customer or partner or job opportunity.
• Spend time in volunteer work with organizations that match your passion, that are providing a valued service, where you can add value and whose members you would like to meet. Be sincere about helping the organization and follow through with some form of helpful service. This will enable you to meet the people within the organization and establish a positive reputation. You don’t have to sell your business to them. The ones who care about it will simply ask you and want to know more. You will become referable by your participation and presence.

The benefits

If you spend the time to continually enhance your position as a referable person and business, it will eventually pay off. Don’t expect immediate results. It takes many months and sometimes years to be recognized and respected. This means a lot of giving before receiving.

It often amazes me when I get a call from someone I helped over a year ago who now needs business help or knows someone who does. I got many calls for job offers as well, all from making people aware of my skills. When these kinds of things start to happen to you, you know that your work to become lastingly referable is paying off.

Being referable will lead to many new business relationships:

• New customer prospects referred to you by the people who have confidence in you and your business
• Potential business partners that you might not have been able to contact without a referral
• Additional suppliers that might be a better choice for your business
• A wide selection of business service providers that could help your business as well as your customers’ businesses
• Public recognition that could lead you to new relationships
• New job opportunities, some of which might be better than the one you currently have

On the flip side of the coin, you become a more effective referral agent. The more business connections you have will enable you to refer business assistance to the people and businesses that you are trying to help. Providing referrals is one of the most valuable favors you can provide to others. You just may get a referral in return.

This is power networking

Some people call this networking. I call it networking with a value added purpose. Every time you meet with someone, be prepared and have an objective in mind. Provide value to the people you network with and you will get many times that value in return. This is not a series of one-time events. It’s a constant drum beat of value added communication with your network, enabling them to remember you first when they see an opportunity that fits your business.

To learn networking skills from some guys with strong global networks, I highly recommend the Secrets of Effective Networking workshop. This half-day workshop put on by my friends at Big Think will give you tools and insight into networking that few others can teach. They’ll tell you how they increased their networks rapidly and globally, and how you can, too. To find out more and sign up, go to Effective Networking Workshop.