A man on the inside: Go online to find an investor or Mentor

Startup Britain recently announced this year’s PitchUp initiative with John Lewis, but if you’re hoping for more favourable odds than 400/1 you need to find a mentor or investor willing to look at your proposal. Your first line of approach might be via email, but people get so much junk in their inbox it’s almost impossible to get noticed unless your message is expected.

Oneleap.to is a new concept that aims to put the meaning back into email by attaching a ‘value’ to getting your message read by an influential person. It’s already attracted some big name investors, influencers and all kinds of business people who have signed up, describing the kinds of things they are interested in hearing about if you’re willing to pay – usually around $20 to $40 for a high end executive but I’ve seen profiles requesting as much as $240 too.

You’ll get a guaranteed reply within 10 days or your fee is refunded. When the contact does reply 80 per cent of your fee goes to their nominated charity and of course 20 per cent goes to the website.

With social media being so ubiquitous it’s possible you’re already connected to someone who can help. GetLunched.com is a networking site that lets you browse your LinkedIn contacts and registered users willing to be contacted to see if anyone local has the skills you need to progress your idea. If you see someone of interest you can offer to buy them lunch for a meeting and a chat.

The website will make the approach for you and will even help find a discounted restaurant or suitable venue close by, though you’re not obligated to choose their suggestions. Now hopefully that accountant you vaguely know through LinkedIn can be persuaded to give you advice on setting up your company for the cost of a £30 lunch? You might even make a new friend and ally too.

There are other networks with more specific interest areas that you can hook into as well. Dribbble.com is a nice example that allows designers to showcase their work, bouncing off each other as well as connecting with people who are interested in hiring them. A lot of technical careers now have communities like this (and a growing number of non-technical careers do too), so if you’re looking for new clients you should search the web for business networks in your field.

Sometimes the best option is to approach your consumers directly. If you have a product to promote you can also use specialist business networks to offer free samples or recruit a focus group. As these people are usually already keen users of social media they could prove powerful allies as you progress.

Crowd funding through sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com is also a real option if you’re connected to the right people, and a website like BrandInfluencers.com can help you identify them. This simple tool uses Google Analytics to tell you which Twitter accounts are directing the most traffic to your website, so you can see at a stroke who to keep sweet with free samples and promotional offers and then approach for help spreading the word about a crowd funding campaign to get your idea off the ground.

This article contains just a few of the ideas and resources featured in my new book, Working the Cloud, for anyone in business who wants to get the Internet working for them instead of against them. Order your copy at http://bit.ly/orderworkingthecloud

Kate Russell has been writing about technology, gaming and the Internet since 1995 and now appears weekly on BBC2 and BBC World News, reporting for technology programme Click. A regular expert on the sofa at ITV’s Daybreak and various other TV and radio stations, she writes columns for National Geographic Traveller magazine and Web User magazine. Her book ‘Working the Cloud’ and companion website workingthecloud.biz is the ultimate collection of online tips, tricks and resources for small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs who want to get ahead online. It will be published in March 2013.