Hi Derek and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! We have met during the recent Dublin-based workshop called "Digital Move" organised by JCI Dubin aimed at startups and entrepreneurs. During this training you shared your valuable insights and tips on how to use Linkedin for networking and business growth.
But firstly, tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you become interested in entrepreneurship and how did you begin your entrepreneurial journey?
"I was in 3rd studies in Dublin when my parents asked me to move home to help them to run a new store they were building. I regret never achieving a 3rd level qualification but it has never stopped me. While at home in the town of Belmullet in the West of Ireland I started to get itchy feet and decided to do something after working for my parents during the day. I formed the Erris Chamber of Commerce in 2001-2002 and I was the youngest Chamber President nationally. I joined the local fire and rescue service in 2001 and I am now the local sub station officer. After this (2004) I opened a DVD rental store as I felt I could offer a better quality of service to the local population than the current offering. In 2005 I left my family business and started in Real Estate and also a printing business. In 2007 I joined BNI (Business Network International) and I am now the Managing Area Director for Ireland West. BNI is the largest networking organisation in the world with over 160,000 members in 62 countries."
You do a lot of different things. What do you enjoy most about what you do?
"I really enjoy the fire service actually. Obviously not for the fires and tragedies but the sense of true team work and camaraderie and that your life is on the line and your team are there to make sure they back you up. I am actually bringing a lot of the learning from the fire service into my other areas of work."
As an award winning expert in business networking; why is networking so important and what makes in your opinion an effective networker? What networking opportunities are there for startup founders in Ireland?
"You may have the best product/service or new idea out there but if no one knows about it or you it’s worthless. You need to get out and start meeting people either in person or online. It needs to be a mixture of both. An effective networker always goes to a meeting or networking event prepared. He/she knows that it’s not “Net-sit”, or “Net-eat” but “Net-work” so it takes practice not to fall into the trap of chatting to those that you already know. Get outside your networking comfort zone. There are so many opportunities for startup founders but by going to the first one or two and asking “where else do you network” then you will start to see and hear where to go."
How can entrepreneurs enhance their networking skills? Do you have any advice or tips for successful business networking?
"By always following up and starting to build relationships with those that you meet. People buy people and that will strengthen your personal network. Smart people build their network, not their sale pipeline because your network will keep referring you where you can get caught up on focusing on getting the end user."
You are very active in promoting business in local communities in Ireland. We are all familiar with globalisation, online and social networking and so on. How did the suburban and rural business environment change in the recent years?
"Rural still beats urban/suburban because of the sense of community that is lost in the bigger towns and cities. It’s the sense of community that will keep a business at the top of minds of the locals where as in the larger populations densities the sense of community is lacking and people keep their head down and don’t want to know."
One of the greatest challenges and frustrations every entrepreneur faces is making first sales. They have an amazing product or service, which no one has ever heard of. They think they understand the customer's problem intimately. But potential customers never act the way you think will act... Do you have any valuable tips on finding and identifying potential customers, pitching to them, negotiating deals and closing sales successfully?
"I have had a number of business ideas but through secondary market research some have gone no further. I have had other business ideas go to primary market research and go no further. I cannot stress the importance of these two stages and doing them correctly. This is where you will build relationships with the influencers in your target product's/services sector. Having a definable USP (Unique selling point is important too and the customer will ask “Why should I buy or change my buying habits for your new product?” so you have to have a compelling argument. Finally be careful not to over promise and under deliver. You only have one reputation in this world and it takes years to build but seconds to destroy."
You have recently become The National President for JCI Ireland (global network for young professionals and entrepreneurs in their 20's and 30's). What initiatives does your organisation run to promote young entrepreneurship in Ireland? How can aspiring or early-stage entrepreneurs benefit from their membership with JCI Ireland?
"I think that as an entrepreneur you have to be a diverse and fast thinker. With JCI you are exposed to our 4 areas of opportunity. They are Individual, Business, Community and International. An active branch will cover all 4 areas and member join thinking they are joining for a single certain reason i.e. business generation but they will gain from individual development such as public speaking/debating skills or even just gaining some project management skills in the safe JCI environment. Other join to give back to their local community and create impact but because they travel internationally they will learn some invaluable that they can implement in their community when they return home. A well rounded entrepreneur is what investors/backer and partners are looking for. We can sometimes become very narrow focused on our own little world. Stepping back and taking the whole picture in can be invaluable."
I am also aware that you have trained hundreds of businesses as part of your career. What best tips would you offer to young entrepreneurs?
"Never stop learning. Training so many businesses I can see those that understand that it is an investment whereas other think they are “too busy”. You need to learn before you can earn. When you are “too busy” to upskill your competition is and when you next look around they are already at the next stage and moving further forward."
Could you provide recommendations on "startup launch checklist" for anyone who is looking to start own business in Ireland?
Three words to describe yourself?
Where can our startup community find you online?
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