Making good things happen: How to ask for help when starting a business

Warblr co-founder Florence Wilkinson shares how she turned her idea into a reality by finding the best people and persuading them to work with her…

More than two years ago I had the dream of combining my work in digital with my love of the natural world.

I had grand plans to use technology to connect new audiences with the wildlife on their doorstep. The idea was simple, but – as is so often the case – the implementation was a different story.

Last week I had lunch with Zillah Watson, a former journalist and now an editor at BBC R&D. It was Zillah who first suggested that I get in touch with Dr Dan Stowell – my co-founder and the scientist behind our machine learning technology. Zillah instinctively looks for the story behind every success, and as we got chatting she identified just how much of a role finding the right people had played in getting Warblr off the ground.

In fact I met Zillah through Kathryn Parsons and her excellent Decoded course. Through Decoded I also came across our developer, Pete, and a number of other people who have helped me along the way.

Warblr screen

No one has ever started something big without the help of others – if you want to change the world then flying solo is a no no. So with this in mind, here are my top five tips on making friends and influencing people:

1. Share your idea

The act of telling people you’re going to do something is the first step towards actually doing it.

Many people find this intimidating. For those who don’t have enough confidence, sharing their idea means putting themselves out there, and they are afraid of looking foolish or being ridiculed. This is a fear we must all learn to overcome. (And the sooner the better – there is much talk about teaching entrepreneurialism in schools, but I believe that crucially we should be building the ability to express and share ideas into our education system).

For people who already have the confidence, it can be a different fear altogether – the fear that someone might steal their idea. But the reality is that everyone has ideas, and what makes yours special is unlikely to be inherent within the idea itself – it is in your ability to do something with that idea. At any rate, the majority of people are probably too busy with their own ideas to try and replicate yours!

2. Ask for help

People are often afraid to do this because they’re worried about looking vulnerable and exposed. I’m fortunate in that I have a high threshold for embarrassment, and I’m willing to admit when I don’t know what I’m doing. Remember that most people will be flattered to be asked.

3. Don’t give up

Have you really tried every avenue? Think about what verticals your idea covers. Who are the key influencers within each of those verticals? What are the companies, communities, organisations, clubs or societies? If an email doesn’t elicit a response, try a tweet. Send a message on LinkedIn. Pick up the phone.  Knock on every door. Be bold and fearless.

4. Keep to the point

Make it easy for people to help you. If you want someone to share what you’re doing through their social media channels, send them some draft tweets and posts so that they can just copy and paste.

If you’d like an introduction, provide a brief paragraph about yourself and what you’re doing.

Use phrases like “might you be free for a quick 30 minute coffee?”, and adjust your tone depending on who you’re talking to.

5. Be persuasive

Why should people work with you? How will it benefit them? Try and understand what they really care about and speak to that.

If you’re looking for cofounders, think about what you’re bringing to the party aside from an idea. Do you know how to take that idea to market? Are you able to develop a product? Do you have an in with a big supplier?

In my experience the key to all of this is to give back more than you take. Always. Within the start-up ecosystem I’ve found a real sense of community and willingness to look out for the little guy, and this relies on everyone signing up to supporting each other.

It may seem like an obvious point, but it’s so important to help those who have helped you, and those who may help you – or someone like you – in the future. It is this ripple effect that will help us all to make waves.

Florence Wilkinson is a communications consultant and co-founder of Warblr, a mobile app that automatically identifies birds by their song.

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