How to build a support network (and why you should)

When I first started my business I believed that I had to do everything, alone.  Despite my family and friends supporting my plans I didn't really let them in on the successes, failures and general day to day challenges of running a business.  Part of the appeal of becoming self-employed was that I was the person in charge, I had no one else to be accountable to and I was the decision maker.  

The problem is that being an entrepreneur is a lonely place.  Especially when you are used to working in a busy open plan office with a whole team of people. For a lot of us, our work is carried out virtually - meaning that communication is reduced to email or the occasional Skype call. 

For the most part, as an INFJ, this suits me just fine. But there are times when it’s nice to bounce ideas around or run through frustrations and challenges with someone who ‘gets it’. 

I’ve been working on building up a support network, and today I’m sharing a few tips on where to find people to connect with. It goes without saying that depending on your business, not all of these may apply to you - it’s about finding what works and feels good to you. 

1.  Twitter Chats

There are so many creative and small business owners on Twitter and I have built strong connections with several.  One way I’ve done this is to participate in Twitter chats. They are a great opportunity to get advice, ask questions and meet new people. Not only is it good to know there are others out there in the same boat as me, it is nice to have a network of people willing to retweet and share links about your business. 

Some of my favourite Twitter chats include:

#ellechat 

#nectarchat 

#blisschat 

#blogtacular

2. Facebook groups

Earlier this year I made it a goal to utilise Facebook more in my business, and part of that strategy was to join relevant groups. Groups are different to pages, in that they can be private so only members can see content. I was surprised to find so many groups relating to my area of business and I love the real sense of community that there is. 

Tip - I went a little crazy and joined maybe 20 groups at first. After a while I realised it was more productive to just join a few and start from there.

Tip - Be sure to read the group rules before posting. Some have very strict rules about promotions, others are more laid back.

Tip - Join in! This is about community so don’t lurk on the edge. Help people out, answer questions and ask for help too.

 

Some of my favourite groups...

Freedom Hackers Mastermind 

The Creative's Corner 

Being Boss 

Blog + Biz BFF's

 

3.  Local networking groups

If you prefer face-to-face contact, there are literally thousands of local business networking groups. Chances are there will be one near to you (unless you live on a remote island in the South Pacific perhaps).  Your local chamber of commerce is a great place to start or you could send out a tweet asking if anyone knows of anything happening in your area. Not only is this a great way to meet others you will often find that most networking groups run useful workshops and seminars. 

4.  Business events and conferences

These take place throughout the year and provide a springboard for networking.  A couple of years ago I attended MADE festival (highly recommended if you’re local) and it was great to be surrounded by so many other entrepreneurs.  There was a real sense of community and it was also a great motivational boost to meet others with similar goals to my own.

5.  Mentoring and coaching

Obviously, I am slightly biased here but adding a coach to your support network can be a great way to feel supported.  The most common feedback I get from my coaching clients, is the relief they feel from knowing someone else is on there side and gets what they are going through. Coaching gives you clarity, helps fill in gaps in business knowledge and skills and gives you a cheerleader for your success! 

6.  Family and friends

Even if your nearest and dearest have no experience of business they can still be a useful support network.  I'm very lucky to have a business woman (and accountant) for a mother and she not only inspires me, but can advise on all manner of financial matters.  I'm also amazingly lucky to have Greg as my business partner - he brings a whole wealth of knowledge and experience in areas I am lacking.  Maybe your family and friends are less involved but they can still be useful for bouncing ideas around with and providing a supportive ear when times are tough.  

7. Accountability partner

Finally, don’t be afraid torch out and ask other business owners if they want to pair up and be accountability partners. I ‘meet’ via Skype with another business owner once a week for about 30 minutes. We chat about what’s going on for each of us, share ideas and tips and support one another. It’s so lovely to know that whatever is happening in my life and business, I have that connection each week. 

Tip - start building connections using the ideas above and then reach out and ask for a Skype date!

 

I’d love to hear from you…do you have a support network?  Maybe you can help others out by leaving your tips in the comments!