Sponsors Can Supercharge Your Business’s Growth

Sponsorship is a powerful concept in the corporate world, yet women entrepreneurs are pretty much unaware of its power.

small business growth, sponsorship, women entrepreneurs, mentorsLack of sponsorship holds women back from the highest rungs in the corporate world, according The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling, research conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation.  After listening to a panel on the topic at the Wall Street Women Forum, I realized that lack of sponsorship is also holding women entrepreneurs back.

You have mentors, why do you need sponsors?

In the corporate world, sponsors are people several levels above you in the organization who have the political clout and influence to help you get promotions, choice assignments, and visibility. They differ from mentors who merely give advice and guidance. In the entrepreneurial world, a sponsor could be an investor, client, a colleague in a trade association, etc. Since men hold most of the power positions in both the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, your sponsor will, more than likely, be male.  

I’ve written about the importance of expanding your networks, but without having movers and shakers willing to use their clout to open doors for you, all you have is lots of people to chew the fat with. That’s nice, but I need more than that.

So do you.

Mentoring is important, but sponsorship is better. Sponsors go beyond giving feedback and advice. They use their influence to advocate on your behalf, according to Lauren Leader-Chivée, Senior Vice President, Center for Talent Innovation and the panel’s moderator.  Mentoring prepares you to move up, while sponsorship makes it happen. Corporate women have an abundance of mentors, but not sponsors. Leader-Chivée believes the same is true of women entrepreneurs. Yet it is sponsors who can supercharge your business growth.

How do sponsors benefit women entrepreneurs?

The brass ring for women entrepreneurs isn’t a promotion or a stretch assignment; it is an introduction to an investor or a major potential client as well as a recommendation to speak at an important conference or become a source for the media, according to Jane Newton the organizer of Wall Street Women Forum and Partner and Wealth Advisor at RegentAtlantic Capital, an independent registered investment advisory firm.  The fourth annual Forum is indicative of the rise in momentum of this initiative to help high level Wall Street women advance their careers. As the Forum has grown, Newton has learned how key those relationships are to its success. 

Adam Quinton was a managing director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and is now an angel investor. He’s a member of the Global Advisory Board of Astia, which accelerates the funding and growth of women-led companies, as well being a Founding Astia Angel and Managing Director at Golden Seeds, an investment firm that invests in women entrepreneurs. He’s also on the board of Center for Talent Innovation. He sees the lower level of funding for women-led, high-growth companies as a market failure and an opportunity for him.

For women entrepreneurs he believes in, Quinton gives introductions to potential investors, opens the door to potential clients, and has recommended some for media visibility. He’s done all three for Lisa Xu, the CEO of NopSec, a cloud-based service that analyzes security vulnerability for financial services companies.

How do you find sponsors?

Many women, both corporate and entrepreneurial, are happy to do favors for their colleagues, but when it comes to cashing those chits in -- not so much. They don’t want to appear self-serving or they fear being turned down. If you think it’s time to take the bull by the horns, Leader-Chivée offers six tips for securing a sponsor.

  • Be proactive: Scan the horizon for potential sponsors. Target the ones with “juice,” or the power to get you to your goal.

  • Maximize your chances for success: Cultivate relationships with several sponsors. Different people will be helpful in different situations.

  • Understand that it’s not all about you: The relationship needs to be mutually beneficial for it to work.

  • Exude executive presence: Radiate confidence. Be articulate. Show integrity. Act decisively. Don’t be afraid to show some teeth -- and I don’t mean just by smiling. Make use of your emotional intelligence to read people and situations.

  • Make yourself a safe bet: Deliver consistently.

  • Lead with a yes: Even when -- especially when -- you’re inclined to say “no” as many women do when asked to speak at a conference, say “yes.” Make it clear that you value any chance to prove yourself and are willing to go the extra mile.

Where will you find your sponsors?

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