3 Keys for Entrepreneurs in Public

David Menzies 919-274-6862 3 Keys for Entrepreneurs in Public
by David Menzies
For entrepreneurs, especially for those bootstrapping their startups, getting a huge return on investment for every effort is essential to success. Most new business owners keep this in mind for the vast majority of their business operations.
But what about maximizing your R.O.I. for being in public?
Your public persona is your brand, and how you promote and manage your brand can make or break you with important stakeholders like prospects, customers, investors, employees, strategic partners and others. Each and every time you step out of the office and head into a public setting, you are representing your business.
With this visibility brings opportunities.

Case in point: a couple weeks ago I was at HQ Raleigh, a busy startup incubator in one of the fastest growing markets in the United States. I was there to mentor some of the entrepreneurs using the facility, answering questions about PR, media relations, basically how to commercialize a startup’s story to help build buzz and support business growth.
Soonafter posting up at a table in the busy lobby, I was approached by a young man asking if he could share the space. After exchanging pleasantries, he gave me his first name. I gave him my full name, followed quickly by my consultancy name and a brief synopsis of what I do. He nodded, smiled, and said, “Wow! That’s really cool, so you help companies like me spread the word?” I replied, “Well, it depends on what your company does.”
At this point, I was hoping the young man would take the opportunity to tell me about his company and maybe engage in a back-and-forth so I could share some PR best practices. Instead, he opened his laptop and began setting up his work environment. After he settled in, I leaned over and said, “So tell me about your company.”
The young main replied with a short description of what his company does. He didn’t tell me the name of his company, tell me where I could find him online, or basically take the opportunity to tell a professional PR practitioner any details about him or his company. Instead, he started checking his email.
Maybe he was busy, maybe he just wasn’t in the mood to chat, I thought. Of course, why he would be in a busy lobby at a startup incubator and not be in the mood to talk is curious. Still, I gave him his space and soldiered on with my own work. Almost immediately, a young woman came by the table, did a double-take at the “Ask me…” sign I had in front of me, and introduced herself.
This young woman gave me her name, her company name, told me what her company did, and then actually offered to bring up her webpage on my laptop. I introduced myself and explained what I did, and she got really excited and asked if she could pick my brain about some PR topics. We ended up talking for a good 25 minutes, and I offered to connect her with professional contacts I have in her industry as well as my news media contacts; mentor her on an as-needed basis on building and managing a PR plan for her startup; and I even offered to write-up a feature article on her business for my technology publication Startup TechWire and then work with her to leverage the coverage into more high-profile media opportunities.
So here were two entrepreneurs in a public place designed to help startups grow their business. One entrepreneur took advantage of a quick hello and wound-up with a nice opportunity for some solid publicity, whereas the other missed out. Both cases showed the need to keep three keys in mind every time you as an entrepreneur are out in public:
Have your strategic messaging down
The young woman I spoke with gave me a working knowledge of her business within less than a minute or two of our time together. She wasn’t giving me a lengthy overly detailed explanation of her life story, but rather her value proposition. It was concise, quick and informative.
Hone your interpersonal skills
I’m not exactly sure the young man I sat next to has ever considered getting together an elevator pitch, strategic messaging, or even an approach to introducing himself to strangers. He struck me as a software developer dipping his toes in the business world, who maybe doesn’t value communication in general and interpersonal communication in particular. Even if you don’t interact with a lot of people on a regular basis, make sure that you know how to act in public when you are out and about — you never know who you’re going to meet.
Take advantage of introductions
If someone introduces him or herself to you, dive right in, especially if you’re in a startup-friendly environment. Places like HQ Raleigh are chock-full of interesting, experienced people who want to support the local innovation community and are more than likely willing to share best practices with you if not actually jump right in and hook you up with contacts or professional services. If you are in public, and someone else is in public, why not go up and introduce yourself? It sounds overly simplistic, but some of today’s entrepreneurs still need to hear this message.
Having your messaging together; training yourself on how to deliver it face-to-face; and taking advantage of the opportunities to meet people in a public setting can lead you down the path to success sooner than you think.
– David Menzies 919-274-6862 is President of Innovative Public Relations