Ways to Get Entrepreneurs Involved
Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By André Taylor
Entrepreneur and Author
You're a community college president, dean, faculty, or a member of the continuing education, workforce development, or foundation team. You think it would be ideal to get a local entrepreneur involved with your college. Maybe you'd like to gain their participation in a particular program or even ask for a donation. Do you know how to do it?
A friend of mine received a call from a local college. A lovely young lady from the foundation was asking if he would help with their annual fund drive to help students pay their tuition. The college apparently purchased a list of businesses in the area and began cold-calling.
The young lady called in the middle of the workday and launched into her pitch. After describing the college's efforts to help students, my friend thought about it and said, "Sure, I can give you $250.” The young lady responded, "How about $500?” My friend replied, "How about $150?” She said, "Wait a minute. You just said $250!” My friend bristled into the telephone, "Miss, I am really busy. I don't really have time to go through this. I said I would be willing to give you $250 upfront, but you're trying to push me.” Ironically, my friend could probably have given $25,000 easily, but the inexperienced and impatient young lady approached him the wrong way – and at the wrong time.
Many education professionals find communicating with members of the business community difficult. They don't know what "buttons” to push, or where to put their focus. They often don't know how to advance opportunities that surface because they don't know what to say. To some business people it feels that academia often marches to a different beat – because it does. To build relationships with entrepreneurs you must know how to sell, market, and network just like entrepreneurs do. Here are a few suggestions on how you can win over members of the business community:
Every entrepreneur I know is the same. We want to be acknowledged. Being an entrepreneur is somewhat lonely. Most people, including our spouses, have no idea how many mountains we climb on a daily basis. Everyone can see when we're on top, but few feel the agony and pain of trying to keep our footing as we attempt one steep climb after another. The simplest way to build a relationship with an entrepreneur and win them over is to give them a call or write them a letter and say "Great job!”
2. Provide Access
There are probably many aspects of your college of great interest to the business community if you would simply open them up. Maybe you have a historic archive, or a group of scholars who can shed light on a particular topic. Perhaps you have an arts group, or interesting scholarly research taking place. Invite an entrepreneur or two in for a private tour, showing, or roundtable. Provide exclusive access to what you have. Treat them like kings and queens while they're there.
Every entrepreneur thinks they have the best ideas, me included. Being confident about your ideas and your abilities go with the territory. Want to get an entrepreneur involved? Want to have an entrepreneur focused on helping you? Ask for ideas. You will probably get more than you can handle. How about asking an entrepreneur to come in and listen to some of the concepts you're considering and provide feedback? Better yet, how about visiting the entrepreneur and listening to what they are working on?
Colleges have so much to give but often are not very creative about it. Give an entrepreneur an opportunity to speak at your school. Promote it internally and to the community. Give an entrepreneur an award for community service. Give an entrepreneur space in your school to hold a meeting such as an industry forum, sales meeting, seminar, or Chamber of Commerce gathering. If you can, give an entrepreneur that degree they've earned by mastering their craft over the last 20 years.
You'll notice this is last on my list. Yes, you can and should ask the entrepreneur for a donation, sponsorship, or access to their company resources, but never start there. And when you do ask, begin by finding someone who knows the entrepreneur. This person can pave the way by providing an introduction.
While it may seem to you that your school, conference, or endeavor is an ideal opportunity for an entrepreneur to write a check, you are far more likely to be ignored if this is how you first approach an accomplished business person. There are simply an abundance of opportunities to contribute to, but few organizations that know how to make you want to. Yes, you can get entrepreneurs involved, but you must know how.
André Taylor is author of You Can Still Win! and a regular contributor to ABC News' "Money Matters.” He's the founder of Taylor Insight Worldwide, a premier leadership development firm providing innovative, forward-moving advice, information, and resources for entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurial enterprises. He's a community college graduate and serves as a strategic advisor to NACCE.