As an entrepreneur, I’ve had moments where I began projects and halfway through felt lonely and overwhelmed by everything I needed to do to make it come to fruition. Last year, for example, I decided to write my first book. Having never written one before, I didn’t know what was involved. So I made a list of all the things I didn’t know how to do like design a layout, hire an editor, and find a printer.
Then I looked at the project as a whole, I immediately felt paralyzed by the amount of work ahead of me. Instead of writing, I popped in one of my favorite teen movies, 10 Things I Hate About You. In the film, there’s a scene in which two friends agree to pay someone to date one of the outcasts in high school—only they realize they have no money. “Yeah, well, what we need is a backer,” says the one friend. “Someone with money who’s stupid.”
That’s when I realized that I needed a backer too, only someone smart. This person also had to have a vested interest in my success. But where do you find someone like that? Here’s where I looked.
Within My Support System
I told my closest friends about my new project and why I felt I needed to write a book. Although none of them had written a book either, it didn’t stop them from helping me. One friend recommended someone who offers editing services while others suggested graphic designers and printing companies. I was starting to get the resources I needed to piece this book together.
People Whose Mission Aligns With Mine
While it’s wonderful to have friends believe in me, I needed others to believe too. I wanted to find people who would help market the book to a wide audience. I also needed sponsors to cover the printing costs.
To find these people, I started by making a list of about 100 companies I thought might be interested in what I had to say. I then sent them a short e-mail introducing Femgineer, my website that helps female engineers advance in their careers. I gave them information about my book proposal on transforming ideas into products. I also asked if they’d be interested in sponsoring it.
I didn’t e-mail them just once, but a few times until I got a response. Out of the 100, 15 got back to me. I called each one and I started the conversation by asking them about their companies’ values, goals, and what caught their attention about Femgineer. Instead of just asking for the sponsorship outright, I crafted an offer emphasizing how I could showcase them in the book. In the end, I convinced seven companies to help sponsor and market the book to their audiences. Those who said no either didn’t have the budget or didn’t believe the project was aligned with their goals. And that’s fine. What entrepreneurs really want are people who believe in them and their vision.
SUMMING IT UP
From this experience, here are the three main lessons I learned:
- Tell people why you believe in your project. They need to know you’re passionate about the work you’re doing.
- Find alignment. While people want to support you, sometimes they just can’t because it’s not good timing or they have a conflict. It’s important to find those who are on the same page as you.
- Don’t just ask for help, but craft an offer on how the person will benefit from the partnership.
At the end of the day, we all need backers who believe in us and our ideas. So who’s got your back? And how did you convince them to support you? Share with us in the comments section below.
Poornima Vijayashanker is the founder of Femgineer.com. She was previously an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at 500 Startups, a global community of startup founders, mentors, and investors, as well as a lecturer at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, in Durham, N.C. She was also the founding engineer of Mint, an online and mobile personal financial management service.