Power of Networking

Networking is very important. Don’t let ’em tell you otherwise. At times, knowing the right people and connecting with them can make a huge difference in making your startup take off. I didn’t have a clue what networking meant until this spring during Project Artemis and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program. The professors and management team kept telling us to perfect our 30-seconds commercials or what is also called an Elevator Pitch. The idea is to summarize what you do, why you do it and how you do it in such a way that it acts as a hook – something so exciting and interesting that the person gets hooked onto it and wants to hear more. For example, my elevator pitch went like this:

Hi! My name is Maria Umar. I am the Founder and President of Women’s Digital league which is a virtual shop providing digital services such as data entry, content writing, transcribing and email plus calendar management etc to clients. The entire team comprises of educated, skilled Pakistani women working from home.

So in just 30-seconds or the amount of time it takes for an elevator to cover two landings (unless it’s the elevator at the US State Department in which case it’d be 10 floors in 30 seconds) I told the person what I did, how I did it, and gave them an interesting concept for a startup … women from a country like Pakistan working from home on their computers earning a living.

So you swap business cards and if you’ve done a good job of it, you can be sure of getting an appointment to talk in detail about your venture.

People have been asking me why I went to a fashion event I attended recently. A friend sent me the passes and I was intrigued. But more than that, I saw it as a networking opportunity. I am helping manage the Hunza project now and we have big plans for it. I thought what would be a better opportunity to spread word then attending an event crawling with the media? So I went. And I am glad I did. For one, it was a new experience and was very entertaining. Secondly, I met a lot of interesting people, told them about my work and got some very positive response.

Another good way, besides attending networking events, is Facebook. You have no idea how many random people I have added to my friend’s list over the last 3 years … I only have a handful left now but it was worth it. These few people have been immensely helpful despite the fact they don’t know me at all. But they took the time to listen, to follow my activities, to answer my questions, and much more.

So ladies, keep your business cards on you at all times, don’t hesitate reaching out to a person you think might be a good connection, be genuine, take interest in the other person’s ‘story’ as well, offer help when you can, give people a chance …

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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Why Business Plans are Important

OK so am back from a 3-week dream trip to the US. First things first, here is a dedication to all my detractors:

That felt good … to all of you who thought I was crazy for running after impossible dreams and who laughed and scoffed and looked down because you went to medical school while I attended a 3rd grade college and studied english literature … look at me now. Ahhhh … what bliss. Thank you for all your negativity and for your b****iness. Made my resolve to do something “different” and “meaningful” even more stronger. So, hope this is all giving YOU HELL.

With that out of my system, I can go back to being the nice, sweet person you all know. I notice traffic on the blog. Amazing! So, all you anonymous, silent readers, if you are here for anything useful, sorry to disappoint you. This is just a place for me to rant and ramble and brag about my fabulousness. No, seriously!

Anyhoo … so after spending 3 weeks in the US making wonderful friends and meeting amazing people and spending US$11k of the American tax-payers’ money, what was it that I learned? A LOT, I tell you. My head is abuzz with ideas. I haven’t even had time to feel jet-lagged. Been working since the day I landed in Paki-land. But, after thinking and feeling like my brain was going to explode, trying to decide what I wanted to work on first … I realized … Thunderbird was right … I need a business plan. I can’t go around making great plans for out-of-this-world websites, and hiring a gazillion women to work from home at fixed salaries without capital, and to raise capital, I either have to steal my mother-in-law’s jewelry, or I have to write a business plan, and hope I find an investor just as crazy as I am. *If you are an investor, please read ‘crazy’ as FABULOUS.*

So, been working on it since yesterday using a template given to us by Prof. Steven Stralser at Thunderbird. I have also realized, while writing your business plan you will probably need a lawyer. For example, Women’s Digital League is not registered. To register I have to decide if I want to make it a Private Ltd. Company or a Public Company. I have had the best of the best explain to me the difference between the 2, but it’s beyond my comprehension so will have to leave it to a lawyer. Also, you might have to answer questions like:

  • What kinds of permits or license will you need to open for business?
  • What government requirements will you need to meet?

Now obviously, I don’t know the answers to either of the above. But an investor would want me to know about these and to take care of them before I get us both put behind bars. 😀

Also, having a business plan ensures you set your priorities right. What is it that you are going to do once you get the US$100 million (that’s how much Quora got … sighhh …. I DETEST rich people). Will you spend it on sales, marketing, HR, improving your services/product? Chances are you want to spend on all but then what is most important. It will help clear your head and put all your ideas into some kind of an order … I know things look a little less chaotic now that I have started working on a  BP. It’s kinda like spring cleaning. Your clear out the cobwebs, throw out the items you know you will NEVER use and that are so precious to you but are cluttering up the space (my Spice Girls shoes from 1996 – *sob), and clean out the bits and pieces that are the most useful and lay them in neat stacks.

So a Business Plan is essentially your vision put into words, and a strategic plan to help you achieve your goal. It helps put the mechanism into operation. An idea is just an idea and holds no value until you put it into motion. Plus, we live in a material world dahlins … like it or not, but $$$ is important. And no investor in his right mind (unless it’s your billionaire dad and you are the prodigal son *notice how I am diverting from my love of all things feminine and for the negatives am only using the masculines!) will give you any money. For that, you have to show her  (see the subtle change? Female equality? Sorry, we are superior. Men will just have to learn to live with it.) you have a sound financial understanding of your business, the capital you need, why you need it, how you will spend it, and how you will make that 1 million into 10 millions.

Because a good business plan is always a team effort (which sadly mine isn’t but will still work beautifully because my awesomeness = a team of 10 great ppl put together), therefore, you tend to not get carried away by your ideas and remain firmly rooted in reality. You get to debate each and every point and make sure you have a realistic strategy in place to help you through tough phases and not get bankrupt in your first year. Yes, it still happens despite the best of teams working together, but you narrow down your chances by leaps and bounds.

So, I know it sucks to sit down and write down everything because you would rather go out and do things then just talk about them. But if you need that seed capital that’s so important for startups, even virtual ones, dudettes you gotta nail your business plan.

Me goes works on mine …

Lemme know if you have any Qs …

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee