Academic journal article International Journal of Entrepreneurship

Sources of Advice in Entrepreneurship: Gender Differences in Business Owners' Social Networks

Academic journal article International Journal of Entrepreneurship

Sources of Advice in Entrepreneurship: Gender Differences in Business Owners' Social Networks

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Entrepreneurs are, to some extent, dependent on their networks of personal relationships when making decisions and solving problems (Taylor & Thorpe, 2004). Networks provide business owners with direct access to the resources necessary to establish and grow a business, in addition to indirect access to third parties and their resources. In certain industries, such as creative and professional business services, networks and contacts have been found to provide an indication of an entrepreneur's standing and reputation (Silversides, 2001).

Men have traditionally had different networks from women, with men's contacts being more likely to produce information important to business success (Aldrich, 1989). This study examines data from the European Union regarding business owners' reported sources of advice, comparing the answers of men and women. The following sections provide a brief literature review on networks, followed by the results of the study, and analysis of the data.

SOCIAL NETWORKS AND KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION

Social networks are becoming increasingly important as they provide firms with access to markets, ideas, information, advice, business opportunities, and other resources (Birley, 1985; Farr-Wharton & Brunetto, 2007; Gulati, Nohria & Zaheer, 2000; Hoang & Antoncic, 2003). One result of networking is the development of social capital, which essentially consists of the "resources individuals obtain from knowing others, being part of a network with them, or merely being known to them and having a good reputation" (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 107). The end result is that networks are related to the survival and growth of new firms (Bruderl & Preisendorfer, 1998).

Granovetter (1973) classified network ties as either weak or strong based on the frequency of contact, which was itself associated with reciprocity. Relationships with friends and family were categorized as strong ties because of frequent contact and emotional closeness. In contrast, ties between business associates, consultants, and other such contacts were classified as weak ties because of less frequent contact. However, Granovetter also argued that "the strength of weak ties" was related to diversity in sources of knowledge and advice in that "individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends" (1973, p. 106). Frequency of contact is not sufficient as the sole measure of network quality, however, because the exchange of useful information is not guaranteed--there is only the opportunity for exchange (Frenzen & Nakamoto, 1993, p. 369; Zhao & Aram, 1995). For example, a strong tie with a friend with whom one interacts frequently is not necessarily useful in a business setting, whereas a weak tie with a business consultant would be expected to yield more useful information.

The degree of diversity in a network can be referred to as the network's range (Burt, 1982; Zhao & Aram, 1995). A network with a large range would likely include both informal and formal sources. Informal sources include family, friends, professional acquaintances, and business contacts, whereas formal sources include banks, business consultants, accountants, lawyers, chambers of commerce, small business development centers, etc. (Birley, 1985; Cooper, et al., 1989; Littunen, 2000; Watson, 2007). Although the concepts are not exactly the same, people often have stronger ties with informal sources, and weaker ties with formal sources because the frequency of contact is usually lower with formal sources.

Nebus (2006) contends that the most favorable situation is one in which social contacts also happen to be experts because social contacts are more likely to willingly communicate and are easy to access. In contrast, experts are more likely to have valuable information, but are more difficult to access. …

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