The life of an entrepreneur or small business owner is often times a lonely island. You’re usually at work long before anyone else arrives and you stay long after others go home—and that’s if you’re fortunate enough to have a team working with you. Many times, entrepreneurs work alone. They are their Accountant, IT specialist, Chief Marketing Officer, CEO, and Head Groundskeeper all rolled into one.
So where do solo-entrepreneurs go when they need feedback to a business challenge or opportunity? Where do they turn to bounce their business ideas off the proverbial wall?
If you work for a large company or own your own, you’re typically surrounded by talented colleagues who make up your department or division or the entire organization. You think nothing of picking up the phone, shooting off an email, calling a meeting, or wandering down the hall to get insight from trusted confidantes, mentors, or advisors on topics big and small that impact your business and sometimes even your personal life. Finding a willing ear and someone with sage advice to share is no big deal.
But where can you turn when you’re the top dog of your own one-person team? Who can you rely on when you need that willing, well-tuned ear . . . and there’s simply nobody there?
Long-time readers of this blog know that I often stress the need to network, Network, NETWORK (shall I say it again?). Now, when we think of networking, we often think of it as a way to grow business opportunities and stay in touch and attuned to our respective industries—and you won’t hear me argue either of those points—but you can also use networking to grow a trusted inner circle of colleagues with whom you feel comfortable sharing information and seeking advice. Sure, you may run into issues of proprietary information and the occasional conflict of interest, but if you choose your inner circle wisely, and are willing to give advice as well as get it, you might be surprised at the generous nature of your fellow entrepreneurs. After all, many of them find themselves in the same boat as you.
Networking “Kids in the Hall” Style
You won’t want to include just anyone in your inner circle. Too much feedback can be just as difficult as too little, especially if the source hasn’t been vetted. Just as you would if you worked for the same organization under the same roof, include only those individuals you know you can trust, whose opinions you value, and who tend to share your professional and personal values. They are the ones most likely to provide the kind of counsel you seek.
Consider these ideas on how you might round out your “inner circle:”
- If you’re new to an area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce for leads to local networking opportunities.
- Check online for business associations, peer groups, or mentoring organizations in your area. Participating in one or more of these groups can be a boon to your business and to your relationship-building efforts.
- Check with your nearest University. They often have alumni groups that sponsor networking events, or may have ties to business incubators or start-up groups.
- Volunteer to become a mentor to other business owners. You’ll not only become a key resource to them, but you’ll begin to cultivate important relationships and contacts.
- Scour the likes of www.LinkedIn.com or other online venues such as www.meetup.com for networking events in your area, or online.
- Join or start a networking group online through www.LinkedIn.com or even www.facebook.com. You might be pleasantly surprised at the number and quality of connections you generate.
- Don’t forget your past confidantes. Remember those folks you turned to for advice in a past career? Chances are they’re still around. Seek them out. They will probably be more than happy to impart some advice, let alone rekindle your acquaintance.
- Consider bouncing ideas off your spouse or significant other, or a close friend. He or she will often have a unique slant on your situation, plus will have the advantage of knowing you, your likes and dislikes, and your strengths and weaknesses, better than most.
- Last, but not least, don’t forget those most responsible for your success: your clients. Identify a handful of your most trusted clients—your biggest fans—and turn to them for their advice. Invite them to lunch or for coffee, or call or email them. They may be flattered you consider their input valuable.
Here are some of the groups I belong to:
- San Diego Sport Innovator (SDSI) – www.sdsportinnovators.org
- Miss Mission Beach Beauty Pageant (MMB) – www.missmissionbeach.org
- Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego (HDSA) – www.hdsa.org/sdch
- Poseiden Foundation – www.poseidenfoundation.org
- University of San Diego (USD) – www.sandiego.edu/
As a solo-entrepreneur or small business owner, you don’t have to and you shouldn’t try to conduct business in a vacuum. Business is about people, relationships, and meeting needs. Holed up in your own office and in your own head, trying to ask as well as to answer all the questions, can become a recipe for business failure.
How do you get the feedback you need or want? How have you developed your inner circle? Have you participated in networking groups or associations? What’s worked or hasn’t worked?
Share your experiences here.