As an entrepreneur, you lack the safety net and sense of support of a large corporation or organization behind you. But what you miss in coworkers, you can gain in fellow entrepreneurs who, like you, choose to plot their own way forward.
Embracing a strong peer network empowers you as a business owner and supports you with referrals, advice, and a post-work beer at the end of a long week. Here’s how to foster a strong network of entrepreneurs as you build your company from the ground up:
1. Tap Family and Friends
You already have concentric circles of people who support you every day. Take a look at your phone contacts. These individuals are your tribe, and may very well offer inroads to individuals and resources can support your entrepreneurial endeavors.
Start by emailing old and new friends, acquaintances, former colleagues and family — the list will be long. You could be missing connections without realizing it. Touching base with your contacts builds on what’s already established, which is the first step to developing a network. Keep it light, brief, and let them know what you’re up to as you would in a casual conversation.
Here’s a great example with some fill in the blanks:
Include your email address, website, social media handles. And if there’s something specific that you need, such as someone to test a new product or more followers on your business’ Facebook page, just ask. The people you spend time with are there to support you in any way they can.
2. Dive Into Already Existing Networks
In addition to your loose group of connections, you have more formal networks already at your disposal. Did you attend a college or university? Alumni organizations offer some of the strongest networking opportunity, building on shared experiences and a deep sense of trust between members. Instead of just attending events, reach out to your local alumni leader or a coordinator in the alumni office to learn about any resources available to you.
The founders of Misadventures Magazine, an entrepreneurial startup and women’s adventure magazine, sidestepped venture capital funding and instead capitalized on their roots as alumnae. They received a $25,000 grant from their alma mater in the form of Davidson College’s Venture Fund Competition. The grant covered the costs of getting off the ground and jump-started this thriving publication. Reach out to your alma maters and get involved with any sponsored entrepreneurial programs on and off-campus.
Just as alumni associations support your growth, so does your neighborhood and network of local businesses. Where do you go shop every day? Who do you see on your walk to work? Always mention your startup in casual conversation — word of mouth is the best form of networking. Take your local connections a step further by reaching out to your chamber of commerce and local newspapers to get traction — both like to feature local business people bringing a new service or product to the community.
3. Balance Quantity with Quality Connections
A wide network and epic social media following can take your business far, but it can never replace the depth of connection you should cultivate with a close-knit group of fellow entrepreneurs. As Patrick Powers, marketing strategist and founder of Entrepreneurs in London, told Forbes magazine:
If we rely on simply spreading our names we’ll fail. It’s more about creating fewer relationships but creating a bigger impact around those. If we build a strong relationship with 10 or 20 people, the amount of referrals that comes from that can be tremendous. Building quality relationships, deep relationships is what it’s all about. People buy from people they know, like and trust, and building trust takes time.
Check in weekly, or bi-weekly with entrepreneurs whose values and focus align with your own. Seek these long-term, formidable relationships over flimsy connections. If you don’t connect with someone, don’t try to force it. People can sniff out inauthenticity, so in all your interactions, keep it real.
4. Provide Value
The golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” guides the best entrepreneurs to build golden networks. Instead of asking for a favor, offer a helping hand and see where it takes you. In other words, offer value from the get-go.
Scott Tousley put this principle into practice to build a stellar LinkedIn profile. Scott wanted to increase his endorsements on the social network and asked his connections to help out. Here’s why it worked: Scott didn’t start with, “Hey! I’m looking for endorsements,” but instead, “What skills do you want to be endorsed for?” First, he offered to support his connections, and then he politely asked if they could do the same in a spare moment. The results increased his endorsements by over 1000% in less than 15 minutes, championing his skills and strengthening his reciprocal relationships.
Image Source: Portfolium
5. Connect with a Coworking Space
Coworking spaces are a networker’s dream. Instead of catching up with coworkers, your daily water-cooler talks take place with fellow entrepreneurs whose guidance, support, and clients can move your business’ prospects from okay to awesome.
Ask Inc. magazine reported, “The rise of coworking space in the past 10 years has changed the face of the startup ‘office’.' With these innovation centers growing in numbers, you have more options to connect with a network of entrepreneurs than ever before.
In the Boston area alone there are almost 30 coworking spaces with prices starting at $109 for a full membership. Many coworking spaces specialize in a sector, offering distinct possibilities for collaboration — The Food Loft caters to food startups and Space with a Soul focuses on social entrepreneurship.
Do some research about the options in your local area. If you prefer working from home but would like to expand your network, ask your preferred coworking spaces about basic memberships that give you access to events and limited use of the space for a small fee. At the least, get your name on their email list and capitalize on as many open-to-the-public and free events as you can.
Developing a strong peer network of entrepreneurs gives you professional and personal support as you climb toward your goals. Calling on these peers for support makes it much easier to tackle necessary challenges and find meaning in your day-to-day work.
What do you do to foster a strong and engaged entrepreneurial network?