Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 17th 2014 Contents JULY 2014 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG23
For the small business owner or
sole proprietor, referrals-based
business is a key element to
sustainability and profitability.
However, the means by which
these referrals are generated---
through networking---are often viewed with
distaste or trepidation. Not all of us are social
butterflies and the mere thought of attending
events, meeting people, making small-talk
and collecting business cards may push a busi-
ness owner s networking agenda down the
priority list. Realising that expanding your
referral business is not about socialising will
break down mental barriers associated with
There is no marketing or advertising plan
better than the one you execute yourself,
through yourself. This is networking. Your
ability to network puts you in position to talk
to prospective business partners, meet potential
clients and generate leads. It gets your name
out there and your services known. In turn,
you learn new names and hear about new
businesses. For this, you pay with time, not
If you feel more comfortable in your office
with staff members than in the middle of a
group of strangers, welcome to the club! This
is not unusual. But don t let your discomfort
handicap your business aspirations. If you
remain behind your desk, at the factory or in
the office, you are missing out on the power
of networking to expose your business to not
just new contacts, but new ideas and oppor-
This article will share thoughts on how you
can reach past mental barriers based on fear
or discomfort to successfully network for the
betterment of your business.
If you are uncomfortable in social situations,
surrounded by those who, though like-minded
professionals, are essentially strangers; prepare,
practice and analyse. First off, set intentions
for yourself. Is there anyone in particular who
you plan to talk to?
How many new people are you going to
meet? How many business cards do you plan
to get? Will you try to initiate one conversation
or more? When you set these small goals and
achieve them, you feel a sense of accomplish-
ment which carries over to your next occasion
and makes the act of networking less studied
and more natural.
Do your homework on the event, its hosts
and the likely guests. As much as possible,
make sure you have an idea of the types, if
not names, of attendees you are likely to meet.
From this information, you can decide ahead
of time whether there are particular individuals
or representatives from any particular industry
you want to talk to, and add this to your set
Once you shake hands with that person
you d wanted to meet, it would be a shame
to freeze up and comment on the weather
from your position in the inside of a conference
If making small talk is not one of your
strengths, prepare in advance for those opening
conversational salvos. Have a series of questions
you might ask any attendee: How did you get
started? What did you find most challenging
in 2009? What are your hopes for 2010?
These are open-ended conversation-starters
and they are especially useful for the person
who feels more comfortable asking questions
than being asked. If you re at the stage where
initiating conversation about yourself seems
awkward; practice being the interviewer, not
Know your value
For a small business owner, the chance to
hobnob with bigwigs might cause equal parts
anticipation and fear but if you stutter and
stumble through meetings, you might as well
had never shown up.
To control those stomach butterflies at the
moment of introduction, you should know
two things: the first is that you have a product
or service that people will want to know about
so it would be almost criminal for you to not
share the news; and the second is that you
have finessed the description of you and your
business to a such a state of perfection that
Richard Branson could be eye-balling you and
you would still deliver your business pitch
without a hitch.
Learn to be comfortable in tooting your own
horn. Don t brag, but be quietly confident in
your ability to deliver certain things. Before
the event, make a list of milestones you or
your business has achieved and keep them at
the ready to integrate into discussions, but
only when applicable. If you interrupt a con-
versation about climate change to mention
that you ve won a customer service award
three years running, you re shooting yourself
in the foot.
Effective networking plans require studied,
analytical approaches to the world around you.
Redefine your concept of networking and
open yourself to greater business growth.
Iam a young urban planner trying to find my feet in
a largely unregulated system of land development. A
look at our built environment will reveal that devel-
opment falls roughly into three categories:
The buildings that are constructed brick by brick and
are largely unregulated. Development is piecemeal
and financed through an informal network of family
and friends. Many within this category are unaware of the
regulations and requirements of bodies such as the municipal
corporations, the Town and Country Planning Division (TCPD)
and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for land
and building approval.
For those that do, the constraints of their parcel of land
may mean that they cannot conform to these requirements,
and a feeling of discrimination ensues. Emboldened by the
general lawlessness of our society, others knowingly risk
eschewing the rules for the sake of a better life for themselves
and their families.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who
have the capital to at least initiate and finance much
of their development without relying on loans from
financial institutions. If any illegal works do come to the atten-
tion of the regulatory agencies, these persons are well placed
to negotiate "ministerial relief" with agencies under these cir-
cumstances largely functioning as a "rubberstamping" agency
"regularising" development they would not ordinarily approve.
Finally, there are those that actually comply with
the rules set by the regulatory framework. For the
most part, it is these people in the middle who are
squeezed most by its bureaucratic inefficiencies. For many in
this category, agencies such as the TCPD are simply another
administrative hurdle to cross in order to secure financing.
In fact, the clandestine nature of our governmental agencies
seemingly encourages an environment that easily facilitates
corruption---some are even under the false impression there
are processing fees attached to development applications.
Moreover, even within this category of built development, due
to lax monitoring and enforcement, there are instances of
development being built that do not conform to the plans that
The reasons for this status quo are already well known and
well ventilated; institutional convolution, a centralised system,
lack of capacity to enforce and regulate effectively, legislative
loopholes and persistent political interference (sometimes well
intentioned, but inevitably almost always tied to inappropriate
These factors have resulted in a development control system
that is perceived as largely negligible, and of little consequence
to many, save perhaps for being a bureaucratic nuisance from
time to time.
In a perfect world, wrong is wrong and right is right, but
how can natural justice apply when so many in the society
are implicit and tainted whether we want to accept it or not?
Many do not know what they do, allowing them to hide behind
a facade of ignorance complicating the situation even further.
Does this make them less culpable?
The entitlement to do whatever we want with our "piece
of land" is a powerful cultural urge that pervades all classes
of citizenry. We, as planners, old and young, have failed to
adequately grapple with this mindset when approaching our
jobs and therefore have not discovered meaningful ways to
address with this ultimately selfish modus operandi.
Quite plainly, the underestimation of this urge has been the
greatest misstep of our profession in trying to maintain its
So what should I do, call it a day and find a new career?
Bury my head in the sand and endure within this broken
Admittedly, there are small victories and days when I feel
I have helped people. However, if I were to accept my original
premise that most built development occurs outside of the
regulatory framework, has the tipping point already been
Look around again at your neighbourhood and the built
development that you interact with on a daily basis. Do you
see the connection between how we have settled and the
everyday issues we deal with? The congestion, the flooding,
the high food prices and many of the other issues that seem
beyond our control are, in actuality, intimately interrelated to
this failed experiment of condoned anarchy.
Until these connections are instilled within the psyche of
the general populace, no amount of legislative reform can help
us. This article has been submitted by a member of
the T&T Planning Society.
When it does not come naturally...
Planning in an unplanned place
T&T Society of Planners
T&T Chamber of
Industry and Commerce
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