Social Capital Study - Transforming Contacts into Resources
Social Capital Study - 'Transforming Contacts into Resources - Women Entrepreneurs in the East of England: Building, Maintaining and Utilising Social Capital'
The Centre for Women’s Enterprise at the University of Bedfordshire is committed to supporting women’s business growth and understanding and sharing information on the factors that contribute to this. Expert studies have demonstrated that one of the key factors for sustaining a business is the building and utilisation of “social capital”.
The notion of social capital refers broadly to the number, nature and quality of contacts and networks (formal and informal) that a person possesses and uses as a means of accessing resources - such as advice, information, referrals, funding - to support their enterprise. Female business owners and the role of social capital in growing and sustaining their businesses is a particularly under researched area. In order to address this, the CWE has undertaken a study into how female business owners in the East of England build, maintain and utilise their social capital. Following is an extract from this research.
Some recommendations by the women, for the women
Developing social capital
• Before women start attending networking events, it is important that they complete a self-evaluation, trying to identify what their skills are, to understand themselves and to cover gaps and weaknesses.
• It is important to identify what networks can be for, and to find the one that suits your own purpose.
• Networking groups are good for starting, to get advice, to share problems, and they are learning places where you can find people who can help.
• Look outside the profession (sector) you are in, look at the wider picture. It’ll pay, for sure.
• Explore different groups, get new contacts, and mix new and old groups. • Apart from the formal networks, try to join informal groups such as the health club, the gym, or the school.
Maintaining social capital
• People trust you if you do what you said you would. Relationships take time; build trust, take genuine interest, ask people about their business, and make connections.
• Maintain contacts, not necessarily with an expectation of getting business but even without expectations as well. If they can’t help, someone else will.
• Provide others with required information, help them when and how needed.
• Show interest in what people say and do. By being interested in their business, by showing interest in what they are doing, by finding what they are doing, and by going to their place of work and by taking interest in what they are doing. You’ll win them ultimately.
• Never put all your eggs in one basket, there should be different sources from different backgrounds. One never knows who is known by the small company one is dealing with.
• Do not try hard, be very soft.
Using social capital
• It is amazing to see the effects of active social interaction of women entrepreneurs on the growth/ performance of their business.
• Women entrepreneurs should concentrate more on maintaining their social capital, be it their customers, suppliers, distributors, friends, neighbours or community members. The investment of time, energy, and resources in the maintenance of existing social capital improves the chances of using it more effectively and efficiently.
• Word of mouth can be the best way of marketing ones business, especially in the services and trading sectors. If a customer is happy with your business you can ask her/him for referrals, who may be potential customers.
• Get into a regular habit of meeting at least a couple of people whom you can trust, with whom you can talk. Just take time out and talk with them for encouragement. I am sure it will make a difference.
• When you are doing business you need to get in contact with as many people as you can. Maybe it is not going to happen right now – they can help you in the future with information or services.
• Do not be afraid of exploring other districts. Try different groups and networks and find the one that suits your purposes and needs.
• It is important to understand that the concept of social capital goes beyond ‘networking’. It involves the building and maintaining of networks and the norms of behaviour that underpin them.
• In addition to networking, social capital encompasses building of trust, access to certain groups, and construction and maintenance of durable relationships with different people and organisations.
• Women-only networks represent a suitable solution for business women who are starting their business (generally in the services sector); however, joining mixed-networks adds value to creation of the social capital for those providing services/products to clients irrespective of gender.
• Women-only networks play an important role in the early stages of small businesses, however, women entrepreneurs’ interaction with “high-flyers” managers and /or experienced business owners makes a crucial difference as businesses develop/grow.
• Women entrepreneurs should go beyond local, regional, as well as professional networks. The choice of joining networking groups must be taken strategically considering the time required to nurture social capital and should be dependent upon the nature of each woman’s business.
• Social capital is not a wonder drug or miracle to cure all the problems faced by women entrepreneurs in the growth process, however, it can act as a catalyst or lubricant to facilitate and accelerate the growth process.