E-Commerce Lives

Taking Networking to a New Level

Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the March 6, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. Corrections to venture fair dates were

made on March 12. All rights reserved.

Venture Fairs’ Lush Spring Season

Venture Capital is stalled in Nuclear Winter? For some

folks maybe. But this past year over 200,000 private investors poured

a record $30 billion into promising enterprises. That’s double 2000’s

funding, which itself totaled more than the preceding 22 years.

Clearly,

the money is out there.

If your new business is looking for a piece of this action, the New

Jersey Entrepreneurs Forum (NJEF) is providing the game. As a warmup

to a whole spring season of funding events, NJEF is holding its second

skills-honing workshop, "How to Present at a Venture Fair,"

on Thursday, March 7, at 5 p.m. at McAteers Restaurant in Somerset.

Several start up firms will make presentations and Dan Conley,

founder of Silicon Garden Angels + Network Investors, will lay out

specific strategies and criticisms. Cost: $45. Call 908-789-3234,

or visit www.NJEF.org.

Following swiftly upon the workshop comes NJEF’s own third annual

Venture Fair on Monday, March 11, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the

Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. Over 150 new and expanding

companies will be showing products and services. Cost: $110. Call

856-787-9700, or visit www.NJTC.org.

Three additional venture fairs are scheduled a month apart along the

Eastern Corridor. All offer a fine proving ground for those attending

the NJEF workshop. These fairs are designed for entrepreneurs, growing

businesses, private investors, venture capital firms, banks and

institutional

lenders, attorneys, accountants, and dreamers of all sorts with a

solid fiscal plan in their back pockets.

Angel Venture Fair. Takes place on Tuesday, April 23,

at the Union League in Philadelphia. It is sponsored by the

Philadelphia

Private Investors Group. Call 610-225-2437 or visit www.PPIG.com

Crossroads Fair. The Connecticut Venture Group sponsors

this fair as a showcase for firms seeking funds under $5 million.

It takes place on Monday and Tuesday, May 13 and 14, in

New Haven, Connecticut.

Early Stage East Showcase. Taking place on Monday and

Tuesday, June 17 and 18, Wilmington, Delaware, this event

specializes

in firms requiring $5 million or more. Visit www.earlystageeast.org.

"The capital is still in our economy," insists Conley,

"but

the nature of the investor is changed. They have been thrice burned

in the dot-com and other fires. Caution is natural. There will be

fewer winners, but those new companies that do win will be funded

good and proper, through rounds A, B, and C, right up through the

back mezzanine."

Conley grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts, "just down the road

from Harvard Yard." At age 18 he began a sojourn which entailed

four years in the Marines, 10 years completing college, and countless

deals along the way. He then began "initiating deal closures"

for GE Investment Corp., Chancellor, and other companies. Finally

in l991, Conley opened the doors of Silicon Garden Angels + Investors

Network. Here, he regards himself as "a Yenta — screening

venture capitalists along with profitable new firms and making

introductions."

Says he: "It’s a contact sport."

"In such a buyers’ market," says Conley, "investors are

looking for a very specific set of standards. At any venture fair,

you’ve got to bring out your fundraising tool kit and give exact

elements,

meeting exact criteria." Among these he includes a well-honed

eight-minute venture plan verbal presentation; a 10-page sell book;

and some passion. The entrepreneur must be able to talk passionately

about his management’s commercial potential. He must reach beyond

the product, and sell the content of his character.

Along with Conley’s 12-step strategy for displaying a business to

investors, he presents 10 deadly sins, which he claims are guaranteed

deal crushers. A few of these errors include:

Shotgunning your business. In a gush of excess enthusiasm

or anxiety, many entrepreneurs blare out their entire product

information,

sales strategy, management goals, financial plans and market survey

in a single, boggling burst. Not only can your investor not take all

this in, but she will infer justifiably that your sales technique

may not be worthy of her dollars.

Cold calling investors. Before you knock on any door,

or punch any phone button, you had best hold a ream of facts about

your investor in your head. In what kind of firms does he typically

invest? How much money, over how long a period? What are his sports

and what is his bourbon?

Even after this study, don’t descend on him out of the blue.

Introductions

made through business contacts in a business setting tend to set a

better tone than the wrangled social meeting. But the round of begging

cold calls, no matter how persistent, stands nary a snowball’s chance.

Not risking enough. "Any entrepreneur who thinks he

can quit his job, start a business with $5,000 in the bank and expect

a backer to pony up the other $100,000 is absolutely dreaming,"

says Conley. Starting virtually any business today demands $200,000.

This level of funding demands at least $50,000 from the entrepreneur

with more revenue proof provided.

Yet the largest failure on the part of entrepreneurs is lack

of persistence. "There is a whole spring season of venture fairs

coming up," Conley says. "You can’t just take a shot at one

and hope for the best. Those new firms that haven’t signed up to

exhibit

in all four monthly fairs will wish desperately that they had."

If the inventor/businessperson bring the same tenacity and exacting

precision to funding his product that he did to creating it, perhaps

he too will be one of Conley’s winners, who gets backed right up to

the mezzanine.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
E-Commerce Lives

The Panic of 1893 sent gold and silver soaring, then

crashing through the basement with disastrous results. Lots of folks

lost it all, but we didn’t relegate gold to the slag heap or toss

silver dollars into the Delaware. Now after the soar and crash of

E-commerce, gloomy pundits have declared an Internet wasteland, with

endless don’t-bet-the-‘Net caveats.

But if you are one of those who believes that it’s about time for

spring to follow the freeze, you might want to attend the Managing

E-Commerce Seminar Series of the Mercer/Middlesex Small Business

Development

Center (SBDC) on Thursdays, March 7, 14 and 21, at 6 p.m. Each of

the three seminars takes place at the offices of co-sponsoring New

Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) on Route 206

in Hamilton.

Titled "Initiating E-commerce," "Developing a Winning

Website," and "Marketing Your Website," the seminar series

feature Nat Bender, director of E-business services for the

SBDC state office. Bender will lay out a coherent commercial program

both for firms initiating new products as well as those seeking to

expand sales of established brands. Cost: $20 one seminar, and $50

for all three. Call 609-989-5232.

"Sometimes I see my job as identifying possibilities in the

dot-gone

economy," laughs Bender. "And while no one can deny the crash,

we equally cannot proclaim the Internet’s death. Multi-tiered programs

involving the ‘Net are even more viable for the retail, manufacturing,

and service communities." Granted, info tech has greatly suffered,

Bender admits, yet the value of the individual product or company

website as an arm of sales has never been stronger.

One of the E-commerce originals, Bender began his move into cyberspace

with the breakup of Ma Bell. Raised in Plainfield, Bender graduated

from Rutgers with a bachelor’s in journalism. After working for

several

trade journals, he joined AT&T. When AT&T decided to fragment itself

and move into high tech telecommunications, Bender shifted in the

same direction. He returned to his alma mater, studied the ways of

Web outreach, and for the past five years has directed the Small

Business

Center’s E-commerce efforts.

In his first seminar, "Initiating E-Commerce," Bender helps

entrepreneurs develop an online sales site by first examining the

common mistakes of the past:

Big corporate perspective. With the belief that any

business

online could automatically bootstrap into bigness, a great gap

appeared

in which the small businessperson could not find the products that

met his E-commerce needs. With massive expectations, they installed

huge and expensive programs that became insupportable. Today, Bender

suggests that businesses budget their high tech expenditures, like

any other sales tool, strictly according to the realistic sales

potential

they can provide.

Newer isn’t always better. Beware of pushing your site

out onto what Bender calls "the bleeding edge of technology."

For small items, this can include the use of flashing ads or flow

streamers which while ever-so-clever to install, are merely

distracting

to the buyer’s eye. On the larger scale, beware of anticipating and

adopting new response technology that your clients and vendors may

not as readily purchase and upgrade.

Cash management. Simply put, there is no need to gamble

your financial resources on the hopes of grand online returns.

Currently,

E-commerce trade techniques are as fully analyzed and honed as direct

mail methods. The research is out there and deserves examination.

In place of those close-your-eyes and wish-upon-the-Web-only ventures,

Bender, admittedly conservative, outlines a more hybrid approach.

He sees the Internet as one of several well-blended business tools.

The initial step involves pinpointing your marketplace based on your

suppliers’ and customers’ online capabilities. Where and how do your

clients search to buy? On what level do your suppliers operate? A

surprising number of the raw materials manufacturing firms conduct

trade with low tech tools.

Many business managers feel that online operations diminish the

personal

role in business and all its effectiveness. Granted that many problems

can be ironed out more swiftly via a brief chat with that old familiar

supplier, yet how well does he stack up against competitors as a

source?

Says Bender: "If he’s not capable of dealing competently online

with you, he may not be around much longer to be your trusted

supplier."

Finally, before actually leaping onto the Web, analyze and focus your

market. Probably the greatest innovations for the E-businessman are

the new capabilities that can define your niche among specialized

clientele. You no longer need to scatter your snowblower website to

every retiree in Florida. Featured placement using key search words

can personalize your site. While such customizing still is a bit

pricey,

the results frequently justify the outlay.

The March 14 seminar, "Developing a Winning Website,"

will examine various outsourced site models and determine what works

and what doesn’t. "While we all stand enamored of high tech

capabilities,

we frequently forget the very user we are trying to reach," warns

Bender. "The whole goal should be to make it easy for the customer

to buy."

"Marketing Your Website," on March 21, covers search engine

strategies and other online marketing techniques.

"The whole process of operating E-commerce has become both easier

and at the same time more defined," says Bender. "The ‘Net’s

a business necessity, and those without its capabilities may not stick

around for long. On the other hand, there is no need, nor is it wise

any longer, for the manager or owner to place E-trade strictly in

the hands of technical people."

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Taking Networking to a New Level

<d>Donna Coulson networked her way into her second

marriage. "My ex-husband introduced me to my husband," she

says, chuckling at the memory. She was a newlywed when her husband

took her to meet his auto mechanic, Johnny Coulson, owner of a

40-year-old

Red Bank family business, Coulson Automotive. Fifteen years later,

after she and her first husband divorced, she and her auto mechanic

met for coffee. This year they celebrate their 13th wedding

anniversary.

But, says Coulson, an original thinker, "this is my 25th

anniversary.

Twelve years for my first marriage and 13 for my second." She

says many of her more "straight-laced" friends are shocked

at her personal wedding celebration. Her ex-husband isn’t thrilled

either, but she reports that Johnny Coulson is on-board with the idea.

Says Coulson: "He thinks it’s funny."

Networking has been a mainstay for Coulson in her business life as

well as her personal life. She speaks on "Time for Networking

II: Let’s Get Strategic" on Monday, March 11, at 6 p.m. at a

meeting

of the Middlesex County Chapter of NJAWBO at the Clarion Hotel in

Edison. Cost: $39. Call 732-828-3394.

A 1977 graduate of Douglass — this is the 25th anniversary of

her graduation, too — Coulson spent 14 years with Prudential.

There she did human resources training, development, and policy work,

including a project to get women into management. In 1991 she left

Prudential to start her own personal and business coaching and

consulting

business. "I called it Live Your Life because I didn’t have

one,"

she says.

Newly re-married to a man with an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. job, she says the

travel and commuting her job required became a problem. "I caught

the 7:05 train — a.m. and p.m.," she says. This everyday grind

was punctuated by business trips. Her job included visiting all 60

of Prudential’s field offices twice a year. "I’d get home on

Friday

night, and have to leave again on Monday morning." In between

times, she farmed out chores, taking her underwear to a laundry, for

instance, so she would have a little time to spend with her new

husband.

She got little sympathy at work. "I only traveled 25 percent of

the time," she says. "My bosses were high-level executives.

They traveled 100 percent of the time doing institutional real estate

deals."

For a year before she left Prudential, Coulson began to plan for a

new business life, using networking as the foundation. Here are some

of the lessons she learned along the way.

Join a good group. "I knew everyone in

Prudential,"

says Coulson, "but I knew no one in Red Bank." Commuting and

business travel had left her no time to pick up the contacts a new

business would need. She joined NJAWBO to meet other women business

owners. She says the contacts she made were invaluable in starting

and growing her business. She is still in close contact with NJAWBO

members she met more than a decade ago.

Find a new box to stand on. While membership in a good

networking group is valuable, there is a point where it is wise to

cut back and put more energy into another group. "Once you’ve

been the president," she says, "it’s time to turn the

organization

over to other people." She gave this advice to Sandy Newman,

a past president of NJAWBO, who owns the Raritan Container Company

and also has a coaching practice. "Organizations are starved for

leadership," she says. She suggested that Newman join the New

Jersey Professional Coaches Association. Newman did so, and soon

became

president of that group.

Burn no bridges. Coulson’s mentor from her undergraduate

days at Douglass, the women who taught her all about the field of

corporate training, is still a close friend. Her new company’s first

client was Prudential, her former employer.

Get your name out there. Coulson, who is now a part-time

faculty member at Georgian Court College, where she teaches marketing,

offered to speak for free in the early days of her business. She also

began teaching courses at Brookdale and Middlesex Community Colleges.

"It got me up and out in the market," she says, "and it

built up my confidence in dealing with strangers."

Go after bigger fish. These early experiences, where she

often gave her time away, prepared Coulson to take her business to

the next level. Where she once took on any client, she began to be

more selective. Now, she says, "I don’t want to work with people

who are stuck." She only accepts coaching clients who are already

successful and want to become more successful. On the consulting side

of her business, she has gone after larger corporations, adding the

likes of Johnson & Johnson, Rutgers, and the Teamsters Union to her

client rolls.

Don’t talk to every stranger. In networking gatherings,

Coulson doesn’t spend a lot of time on wallflowers. "If I see

someone standing alone in a corner, I’ll go over and say hello and

introduce him to someone," she says. She hopes the inept networker

will catch on and start circulating, but she doesn’t spend too much

time with him. Effective networking involves connecting with people

who are in a position to buy what you are selling.

Ask the outrageous question. In networking gatherings,

don’t waste too much time on idle chit chat. Cut right to the chase.

Right now, for instance, Coulson is trying to fill up classes in a

course she teaches to show corporate women how to move up the

executive

ladder. The women are sponsored by their companies, so at networking

events Coulson is asking: "What corporations are willing to spend

money on high potential people?"

Get the real scoop. "Networking is about what’s under

the surface," says Coulson. Those who are out and have their ears

to the ground, for example, know which New Jersey corporations invest

in their people, and which don’t. No matter what the economy, some

companies are simply better places to work, she says, and networking

often turns up their names.

Expand the networking circle. "Variety is the spice

of life," says Coulson. She works with personality evaluations,

including Myers-Briggs, in her work, and finds teams overloaded with

creative types get little done, while teams made up only of

detail-oriented

people come up with few good ideas. "You need creative people,

and implementers. And you need financial people to manage the

money,"

she says. It’s the same thing with networking. Moving only among

similar

people turns up only part of the picture, and only some of the

opportunities.

Coulson has found this to be true in both her business and her

personal life. She gave her husband the Myers-Briggs test, which

confirmed

her suspicion that the two are complete opposites — at least on

paper. His embrace of her enthusiasm over her 25th wedding anniversary

suggests that there are important similarities as well.


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