Business ownership can be lonely without the right entrepreneur network. We’ve all heard the platitudes that your network determines your net worth. And we know the benefits of connections. But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you find yourself connected with a group of entrepreneurs and you can’t help but think, “Get me out of here!” “I need a new pool of people.” “These people are all broke!” or my favorite complaint, “I’ve already worked through my warm market, now what?”
Building the right entrepreneur network is powerful. Your network should bring you clients and referral partners. But your network is also where you find those mentors that you can call and ask a question when you just need some new perspective on your business. Your entrepreneur network provides the feedback you need when you are hatching new ideas. It will open doors for you to get you into the right rooms with the right decision makers.
- Network up. If you are new and starting out, don’t build a network of new business owners. If you are struggling, don’t build a network of struggling business owners. Your entrepreneur network will ideally be filled with business owners who have already achieved your next level. Too often when we are building our networks we look at how we can be the best in the room. That is faulty thinking. If you are the best in the room, that room has very little to offer you. Many of the best networking communities have levels and you have to qualify to participate in the higher levels. My advice is to find the BEST group that will allow you to be in and join it! There will be more opportunity for you if you are in the right entrepreneur network!
- Pay to play. I was about to write that I love a free meetup as much as the next gal. But that would actually be a lie. A free meetup attracts a different caliber of entrepreneurs than a paid event. I recently did an awesome booth at the North Atlanta Business Expo. It was the right type of entrepreneurs. We got great connections. We are excited to follow up, and guess what? I paid to participate! I’m not suggesting that you plunk down funds for every networking group out there. Or that you sign up for every vendor booth that crosses your path. BUT, when you find the right group that can open new opportunities for your business, don’t hesitate to pay to participate.
- Contribute to connect. The most connected people in any entrepreneur network are the organizers and the leadership team. They know everyone. They are in the loop for other events beyond their community. And the best way to build relationships is to contribute to the leaders. Instead of going into the meeting thinking about what you hope to gain, find out the agenda and objectives of the network leaders. And then volunteer to help. Be part of an advisory board. Help plan an event. Get your hands dirty a little bit in the beginning and you’ll find you get to know people faster and that opportunities flow your way more quickly than it will for others.
- Birds of a feather should not always network together. I am a fan of industry associations. It’s very helpful to be able to connect with and learn from people who are doing what you do. BUT, I don’t recommend that you always stay in your industry when you are building your entrepreneur network. Sometimes you want to branch out and network in groups that might not make sense on the surface. I recently spoke with a gentleman who said his best networking happens when he joins women’s networking events. He sells pest control and women are his primary decision makers. Sometimes it pays to be the only one in the room. You’ll stand out. You’ll be memorable. And you bringing something to the table that is unique. Network within your industry, but don’t neglect the opportunities that happen outside the comfort zone.
- It’s not your gentleman’s club, but it’s not Wall Street either. (I’ve been watching the Crown and gentleman’s club is being used in the classy British sense.) In my early entrepreneur days, I struggled with the time it takes to build an entrepreneur network. I had to block out the time to attend the meeting, and then it seemed like there was always an afterparty where the real deals happened. And a networking meeting could easily turn into a networking day. I didn’t have time to “hang out” so I tried to keep everything as “efficient” as possible. I prefer to text or email over a phone call. I prefer a virtual meeting over a lunch meeting. And I tried, unsuccessfully to build my entrepreneur network without ever leaving my home. Your entrepreneur network is not your club. It’s not your best friends. It’s not your quasi family or your support group. If you go to your networking events to “hang out” you’ll find that you don’t get the ROI you are looking for. However, it’s also not going to be a Wall Street experience where you can go in, rapidly exchange, and walk out with anything lasting.
The real results happen somewhere in the middle. My best business relationships have all happened through an investment of personal time. But, those meetings also had purpose. We weren’t getting together to talk about the latest movies. We met with clear objectives. I asked what they were hoping to accomplish with our meeting. And I shared what I was hoping to accomplish with our meeting.
Your entrepreneur network will be worth it’s weight in gold! Just remember that it’s not about knowing the MOST people. It’s about having connections with the right people that will help your business win.