Monday 14 January 2013

Linkedin and Coffee - two essential tools for ex-military entrepreneurs

Linkedin and Coffee
This is one of a series of posts on useful tools for entrepreneurs leaving the Armed Forces. Here is the full list and links.

For people leaving the Armed Forces, one of the most important - and time consuming - activities is developing personal networks.

If you have spent most or all of your career in the military, it is likely that most of your friends and professional contacts are also military themselves. But in creating a career beyond the Armed Forces, it pays to reach out further afield.


The most powerful personal networking tool I have found is Linkedin - a website used by over 100m people to manage their professional profile and engage with others. One of its key features is that it enables you to see who connects you to people who you may want to engage with - and so who can help you with introductions. It is also a great source of information about personal and organisational interests and priorities.

Many service leavers have extensive networks within the services, but if you are moving on to civilian life it is best to focus on developing a network that gives access to the key shapers of the environment you are entering. This helps with recruiting potential mentors, introducers, customers, advisors, competitors and even regulators. And if you explicitly set out to increase your network you will quickly identify key contacts who are themselves great networkers and can open many doors for you.

6 Steps to Kevin Bacon

To illustrate how far networking can reach, I decided to check on how many removes I am from the Holywood actor Kevin Bacon. In 1994 he famously claimed to have worked with everyone in Holywood, but since then the world has become much more connected. In summer 2012 I went to Linkedin to find that I was 3 removes from Kevin Bacon - 7 people I knew knew someone who knew one of the 142 people he listed as connections. 6 months later I now know 11 people who know one or more of his 204 connections.

In other words, it is possible to build very broad networks as soon as you recognise the value your contacts can have by introducing their own contacts - so always end a meeting by asking for introductions. This is the alchemy of networking.

Caffeine Rush

Investing time in meeting people face to face is a great approach, and to adapt a military phrase, "time spent in coffee shops is rarely wasted". Getting to know people whose activities shape your environment is essential, and learning from their experience is usually less costly than trying to work everything out alone.

Coffee has played a part in networking for hundreds of years - in fact many of the great trading and banking institutions of the City of London grew out of coffee shops in the 17th and 18th Centuries, as did the RSA, which still does a fine job of promoting networking more than 250 years after it was founded. For more on the value of coffee in the generation of good ideas, see is video of Steven Johnson.

This is one of a series of posts on useful tools for entrepreneurs leaving the Armed Forces. Here is the full list and links.


  1. ALL service leavers should seriously consider joining the Reserves. Every unit represents a wide variety of professions and trades in YOUR AREA. You can keep you quals up-to-date (incl those that enhance any CV; First Aid), learn new skills (especially if you change capbadge) and it PAYS! Since leaving the regulars in 2007, every job I have had, I got because I am a Reservist. @ric_cole

    1. Thanks Ric - great point! The Reserves are a great networking environment and organisations like SaBRE - - help show how much military training can enhance performance in the civilian workplace.