Can you build a business solely on personal networks?

My new staff member, Anggie, working at the Maize Blaze stall in Camden Lock

Recently, I have been knocking an idea about in my head and bouncing it off family and friends. It would be interesting to find out what your thoughts are on whether you can grow a small business purely by utilising personal and local networks (comment below?)

There seem to be two approaches to growing a business and I think it largely depends on how much capital is available to invest and the speed of growth. The first approach to build, grow and make a success out of a business idea is too keep all the processes, including hiring staff, totally standardised in corporate fashion. This would include screening candidates who have responded to job vacancy notices which listed a set of skills required, and preferred, as well as a brief personality profile. I’m sure you are familiar with vacancy postings that go something like:

“….The ideal candidate will be a highly motivated individual capable of working at a high standard under pressure and deliver to set deadlines….”

The advantage of hiring in this manner is that you cast the net wide across our beautiful city so, although you may have to filter through many old leather boots you may just snare a rare breed that you may not have found through your local networks. Of course, the fact that you have to filter through hundreds of CVs over time is not ideal, especially when there is no guarantee that a good CV transfers into a good candidate in person. Since time is the most precious and elusive commodity to a small business, this method – which I will call the ‘Corporate Method’ – definitely has its pitfalls.

The other method to grow a business, which I am referring to as the ‘Organic Method’, is to rely on personal connections to identify new colleagues, staff and opportunities. The advantage of this approach is that the people you interact with are vetted by your pier group and thus may be more likely to be a good fit to your business and management style.

I have recently hired a Colombian student who visited my stall by chance with some of her friends about a month ago. She was interested in a part-time job while she studies English for the summer. She has been working with me for a couple of weeks now and I have to say, she has learnt incredibly quickly and is efficient, clean and tidy in her work. Most importantly she is trustworthy and I can leave her to work while I get other tasks done. Suffice to say that I am very pleased with this serendipitous solution to my staffing search.

It seems to me that the organic method to grow a market stall is definitely the most effective as it is crucial that anyone you hire has an interest and understanding of your product which they can translate to customers when you are not there. Trusting someone to represent your whole brand is daunting, especially in terms of keeping the standard of service and product offering, which is core to building and growing a successful market stall (and beyond!).

The problem remains, however, that neither method can deliver staff that want to commit permanently to growing with the business. This could potentially be an area where job vacancy postings may have the upper hand as the long-term aspect could be emphasised and then screened through enthusiastic cover letters.

From my current position, I cannot rule out either option and I am sure that as I use all the resources at my disposal I will eventually formulate the best staff-finding method. For the moment I am keeping an open mind and using these initial experiences as a means to develop my own management skills and style. After all, it is one thing to find good staff and quite another to hold on to them!



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