Who are the people that matter to your business? Your employees, of course; your customers, without a doubt. But I hope you have some other people who matter to your business. I’m talking about those you turn to for advice, support or just a listening ear. Let’s call them your network.
Your network can include many people – from a formal board of directors (if you’re incorporated) to an informal board of advisors. It can include your friends and family members, or your next-door neighbors. It can be online, offline or a combination of both. And I hope it includes other business owners.
I couldn’t have started my business three years ago and kept it going and growing without my network. The people I regularly rely on to keep me inspired, impassioned and excited include all of the above. To that list I’d also add “young people” (organizations that work with young entrepreneurs really inspire me, and I love sharing my knowledge with the next generation) and “industry trade groups” (I belong to several, and there’s nothing I like better than brainstorming with a group of like-minded people).
Whoever you include among the people who matter to your business, here’s some advice for building a well-rounded network.
Get a variety of perspectives. It’s important to get input from outside your industry as well as inside. Though I’ve never run a product-oriented business, some of my best business ideas have been inspired by a colleague who’s in retail. I also get great insights from former employees (many of whom have become entrepreneurs themselves). And, of course, friends, family and neighbors make great consumer sounding boards—who doesn’t have an opinion these days?
Mix it up. If you love getting advice online on social networks, but are shy about picking up the phone—don’t be. You get different benefits from social networks, in-person networking, phone calls and face-to-face interactions. My favorite way to get together with my network is over a lively lunch where conversation (and ideas) constantly flows.
Give, don’t just take. Building a strong network requires give and take. Don’t just take—be ready to give advice, support and encouragement. You’ll get that—and so much more—in return.
Keep an open mind. Sometimes your network gives you advice you may not want to hear. Be sure you truly listen and don’t dismiss things out of hand. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with, or act on, everything your “people” suggest, but it does mean giving them a fair hearing and maybe even asking someone else’s opinion if you’re too close to the situation to be objective.
Don’t have a support network? One place to start building one is at SCORE. You can meet with Mentors one-on-one for in-person advice, or get help any time of day or night online. Best of all, your SCORE Mentors are totally impartial so you know you’re getting honest advice with no outside agenda.