Total Reading Time: 7 minutes.
When I arrived at the El Salvador International Airport (SAL) that early Spring morning in 2009, I was greeted by a young woman with an infectious, heart-warming smile. That woman was Emily Moberly. A good friend of mine who’d recently met Emily convinced me to accompany him as a volunteer and help a nonprofit organization named Traveling Stories build libraries for impoverished children at orphanages throughout the country.
This seemed like an incredible opportunity, but my expectations were low. After meeting Emily and helping the organization build the libraries, interact with the children, and watch the transformation that education and reading can create firsthand—I was hooked. Since then I’ve been supporting Traveling Stories as the Board of Directors President. Every year I have watched this organization continue to grow and make a significant impact.
Emily was featured on Forbes as one of the 10 Female Entrepreneurs in San Diego to Watch. She is a talented leader and incredible networker. Her resourcefulness and ability to cultivate supporters is second to none. Because of this, I’ve asked Emily to share some of her best advice and strategies on creating strategic alliances and partnerships.
Note: Below is a guest post written by Emily Moberly, founder of Traveling Stories.
I met Glenn at the airport bar waiting for my flight from San Diego to San Francisco. He immediately commented on my Reading is Sexy shirt, a fundraising fashion tool that my nonprofit organization Traveling Stories created, and the giant sombrero I was wearing (what, it was Cinco de Mayo weekend!). I passionately told him about the shirt and the cause it supports. I also explained that the sombrero was for a Cinco de Mayo-themed birthday party for a good friend in San Francisco that weekend.
Once on the plane, Glenn saved me a seat next to him. We shared a few drink tickets and quickly bonded over our mutual love for travel and wine. He was on his way to China for business. Turns out, Glenn was an entrepreneur and the owner of several multimillion dollar companies doing business internationally.
He asked how I got involved with the charity and I told him I was actually the founder. This peeked his interest even more. He wanted to know why, how, what, where—everything. He started sharing stories and throwing in snippets of his own entrepreneurial journey. He offered free nuggets of advice that I stored carefully away in notes on my phone, despite the multiple glasses of wine.
Our flight was only 45 minutes, but by the time we landed Glenn had pledged a generous donation to Traveling Stories and invited me to stay in touch. He mentioned that his daughter and I could be kindred spirits and said he’d connect us. We exchanged business cards and went our separate ways.
Fast-forward three years to now: Glenn is still a supporter and donates generously every year. He is still actively involved in the nonprofit. His daughter and I did turn out to be kindred spirits and she, too, is actively involved and has become a supporter.
No matter what kind of business you run, developing relationships with supporters like this is crucial for growth [Arman’s note: don’t make these mistakes while you’re working at it]. If the only people who supported Traveling Stories were friends and family, we’d never grow as big as I dream we can.
As creators and entrepreneurs we must engage people and help them discover a desire to support our work through advice, advocacy, or funding.
I’ve flown hundreds of times and met thousands of people, but I only have a few dozen stories like this. Our goal is not to convince everyone we meet to support our cause or company. Our goal should be to connect with people, test their interest—and then—carefully select the ones that are most aligned and grow the relationship.
Over the years I’ve practiced this philosophy extensively and come up with five habits that have consistently worked.
Five Habits for Growing Your Business Using the Power of Networking
1. Stand Out
Not everyone who saw my sombrero and Reading is Sexy shirt liked it, but who cares. I’m not trying to connect with every person. Decide to stand out in a way that is relevant and consistent with your brand. This will immediately help you attract people who have similar interests, values, and sense of humor.
My Reading is Sexy shirt opened the door to talk about literacy and the nonprofit, but it also showed that I’m a bit edgy. The sombrero said I’m fun, approachable, and don’t give a crap about looking funny.
2. Lead with Your Passion and Be Authentic
No matter what your business is, lead with the part that you are most passionate about. This is something people can connect with emotionally and respect, even if they’re disinterested. Author Donald Miller writes, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.”
You might be describing some boring, technical aspect of the app you invented and launched, but if you are speaking with sincere passion you will have my attention. When I say be authentic, I mean to be honest about where you are at. It’s okay to not have everything figured out.
Supporters need to be able to identify areas they can add value. You don’t want to appear perfect—you want communicate that you are experienced, hard working and not giving up anytime soon. [Arman’s note: our ego’s often prevent us from being fully transparent and honest, but in the end this approach will lead to more genuine relationships that result in the right kind of support.]
3. Take Note of Clues
People drop clues in conversation all the time. Be an active listener and physically take notes (this will further help with habit #5). Glenn saved me a seat on the plane, and of course I took it!
He mentioned that he started his first business when he was a child. This opened the door to ask about his motivation. Why did he start businesses when all his friends were playing sports or making forts? These kinds of questions build deep report and allow us to connect on an intimate, memorable level.
4. Ask for Help in a Small Way Immediately, and Show Appreciation
During our conversation on the plane I shared a relevant challenge I was facing and asked Glenn what he had done when faced with a similar challenge. I invited him then and there to help me, to invest in what I was building. Showing appreciation for this sort of support is important. It shows the contact that you can be responsible and aren’t just a mooch.
5. Practice Diligent and Detailed Follow Up
Time is your enemy. Follow up right away. Be kind but bold. I emailed Glenn within 24 hours wishing him a safe journey and restating that I’d love to grab wine with him and his daughter when he returns.
Glenn’s donations have helped our literacy programs in a big way, but even more valuable is being able to call him when I am facing a business challenge and need advice. He has become a believer in our work, not just a donor. He wants us to succeed as much as I do. We all need people like Glenn in our corner. These five habits will help you identify and nurture the supporters your company or cause needs.
Emily Moberly is the founder of Traveling Stories, a nonprofit organization dedicated to outsmarting poverty one book at a time. She has a degree in journalism from John Brown University and her favorite book character is Nancy Drew.
Arman’s note: I have been supporting this charity for the last five years. I have seen firsthand what each dollar can do, and have directly witnessed incredible transformations in children. But more than anything, it is the integrity Emily and this nonprofit have, and their commitment to using every cent of every dollar toward educational efforts and training for literacy. Join me in supporting Traveling Stories.