Networking: The Secret Sauce to Startup Success

July 9, 2019

Construction and competition go hand in hand.

When you are fighting to get paid and bidding against other contractors for jobs, discussing problems that are facing your company and bouncing ideas off of others isn’t a priority. With almost 70,000 commercial construction businesses in the US, competition is almost inevitable.

But maybe it shouldn’t be. The past ten years have brought great changes to the industry. The introduction of technology to construction, a prioritization of productivity, a renewed responsibility to the client and a labour shortage have all required industry leaders to reflect on the way things have traditionally been done. Introduction of new management programs, safety strategies and even self-driving equipment are just a few examples of the changes in the landscape of construction.

It could also be time to change our relationships. Although construction is a competitive industry by nature it is also an industry of entrepreneurs as well as small and family businesses. Instead of viewing other companies as competition or a potential threat to job opportunities, they should be viewed as colleagues with shared experiences, challenges and interests. 

The Secret Sauce to a Successful Business

Technology and startups are more popular than ever. Technology has thrown open the doors for business ideas that weren’t possible twenty years ago. It is easier than ever for an idea to turn into a business. That being said, 50% of startups shut their doors in the first 5 years. Studies show that the passing of this 5 year mark is related to market demand adjustments, quick problem solving and the consistent ability to learn from failure. 

A study from the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 78% of those who find success identified networking as a vital component to their success. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself”. Tech companies are embodying this mindset by prioritizing networking. It has become the lifeblood of tech startups. The reason this is even possible is that other companies are not seen as competition, but a resource for business growth and development.

Benefits of Networking

There is a genuine respect for others in the tech industry which encourages sharing ideas, learning from the problems of others and helping other entrepreneurs when possible.There is little focus on what could be lost by sharing these ideas but instead on what a business could gain.

One of the biggest things that can be gained from networking is exposure. Connecting with people face to face personalizes your business and helps to develop brand awareness. The result could be potential investors in your business. Networking can also help find potential employees. Having good people to backup a business is important to encourage growth and profits. It can also help to find a new set of clients for your business. The more people who know about you, the better 

Trade shows is one way to network. It’s important to find the best method of networking that fits you and your career goals. 
Image borrowed from Air Force Medical Service.

Help can also come in the form of ideas. Hearing about the experiences of others, asking for their advice and learning how they handled roadblocks is a great way to learn. For overarching industry problems (like the labour shortage in construction) it is an opportunity to learn coping practises that are working for other people. Your business may be the focus of your concerns but you don’t have to tackle problems alone. Attending industry events, conferences and networking specific events creates the opportunity to learn from others and gain exposure to alternative perspectives. 

In fact, networking is becoming so intertwined with business growth that some companies try to expose their employees to it as often as they can. The growing popularity of coop workspaces like Workhaus and WeWork are designed to connect with potential clients, employees, mentors, and problem solvers. The very purpose of these spaces is to have different people around you while you work.

Networking event at the Workhause co-op space in Kitchener, Ontario. Many of these co-op spaces also host networking and meet-and-greet events. 
Image borrowed from Workhaus

Merging Construction, Technology and Networking

Construction has merged with technology for new project management systems, equipment advancements, training processes and safety tools. Construction and technology are becoming more intertwined than ever. DOZR is a representation of how well these two industries compliment each other. It seems like a natural progression to turn to tech for business practices and see the value of networking in construction. 

These two industries have a lot in common. Both involve moving our world forward, require specialized areas of expertise and are faced with changing regulations. Both advance quickly and require innovation to stay on top of the game. Both often start businesses with family or friends and revolve around community. 

By focusing on what you can gain through developing a more active network you immediately set your business up for growth. A lot of the benefits are applicable to the construction industry. The possibility of finding potential employees, clients, or investors is also true in construction.  Networking for construction can keep your business top of mind and give you a chance to hear about upcoming projects or job opportunities before anyone else. With so many changes happening in the industry a lucrative network can be a lifeline to fill the knowledge gaps and ask for help in the new world of construction tech.

Taking the First Step

Taking the step to make networking an active part of your business can be daunting and knowing where to begin is the first step. It can also require a change of mindset. Entering a new situation to build connections requires  an open mind and a willingness to be honest. It can be a big step to have these conversations. It can also be an important step. 

Seeking out the strengths in others is a sign of individual strength as well. It is often said that asking for help can be the hardest and most courageous thing to do. Taking the step to connect with other industry leaders may help to view others not as competition but as comrades. Perhaps the opportunity will come to return the favour by sharing experiences with someone just starting out in the industry.

Networking can be as easy as introducing yourself and saying hello. 
Image borrowed from Planhub

How To Start Networking

Joining a professional association in construction is a great way to grow your network. There are a lot of construction and agriculture associations in both Canada and the US. Some are more general, like the Associated General Contractors of America and the Canadian Construction Association. Becoming a member of more specific associations like Landscape Ontario or the Construction Association of South Florida can help you connect with more local people. It can also give you access to member benefits like discounts or scholarships.

With so many changes and advancements coming to construction, the connections built between businesses and people are more important than ever. Networking has proved to be a key component of success within tech startups. While there is no “correct” path of entrepreneurship there is no doubt that networking should be a part of any entrepreneurial journey. If construction businesses were to make networking a central part of their growth strategy, who knows what kind of opportunities could be created. 

Erin Stephenson

Erin Stephenson is COO and co-founder of DOZR. Prior to starting DOZR, Erin helped leaders across technology and construction build and execute their strategic plans, with a focus on talent, leadership, and change management. Erin has been breaking down barriers in the construction industry to revolutionize equipment rentals. Working to bridge the chasm between construction and technology, Erin is most like a Bridge Builder Machine. She is driven to move the industry forward and believes that technology is the key to building a more efficient industry.

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