A significant amount of importance is placed on building a strong network as an entrepreneur, but what's it really worth?
"I've gained everything I have from networking. Every important revelation about my business self, every new opportunity, every check. I can trace back every important move in my business life to a critical relationship that yielded a new opportunity at just the right time," says Business Brilliant author Lewis Schiff.
Networks are vital for business success and growth, but what happens from simply compiling a group of great people in a rolodex? Nothing.
"Most members of your network aren't really clued into what's important about you. And you aren't clued into what's important about them," says Schiff, who also says that entrepreneurs have to "change that." Networking is only valuable if the people in your network know how to help. If your advisors and mentors don't know that you're in need of marketing help or are considering launching a product you're not quite sure will work, they can't help you with it.
Keeping your network informed is just as important as having great people in that network, if not more important. At Frigibar, I've found this to be true as well and have gained countless partnerships and new introductions simply by keeping people I meet up to date with what we're up to.
Don't let your business fail or experience stunted growth simply because you haven't shared the right information with the people that can help. Here are six great ways to inform your network to your benefit.
- Send a Newsletter or Updates
Email lists have made newsletters relevant again years after they stopped being viable in print. You can use them to keep your network updated. You should also be sending updates or a regular newsletter to your network as if they are investors in your company. Let them know what's going on in the business; your wins, your losses, and what you need.
Also Read: How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read, How to Create a Great Company Newsletter
Keeping people updated on what you're doing and what you need is all about putting information in places where it's easy to find. Few places are better than your blog if you have consistent web traffic and promote blog posts on your social media channels. While only discussing things you need makes for a terrible blog, monthly or even weekly updates if you're very active will give your network information they want and tell them how to best help you. At Frigibar, we publish event recaps after boat shows and share pre-event details of how and where to visit us at shows. It's simple to create and helps your network understand what you're up to.
- Build a Tight Success Network
Informing your network shouldn't feel forced and doesn't have to be. This requires building a tight-knit group that provides value to each other. "The most common networking mistake is to think that having lots of people in your "rolodex" or that having "important" people in your rolodex matters. What matters is having a success network, which is a thoughtfully constructed network of people who agree that having fewer, deeper, more relevant relationships is better than having many superficial relationships," says Schiff. While you can keep a wide range of people involved in what you're doing, having a small and highly involved group of contacts will help when it comes to very important decisions and specialized areas that only people in your close network have a knowledge base to help you with. I believe both are valuable.
- Participate in Related Events
By attending events, I've not only met great new people, I've strengthened relationships with people I'm close with by inviting them to come along or by pre-planning to catch up with those I already know who are also in attendance.
When looking at events to attend to build and strengthen your network, focus on the people who will be at these events rather than the sole focus of the event. While I participate in Easter Seals because I enjoy giving back, this is also a great place to network with other business owners who are facing similar challenges and are willing to help others. If you choose a smaller and focused event, you may have the opportunity to share what you're struggling with also potentially assist other attendees with any of their needs.
Also Read: 10 Tips to Turn In-Person Events Into a Secret Weapon for Your Business
- Overcome Shyness or Fail
It sounds harsh, but if you can't put yourself out there and take risks, you're going to fall behind, or even worse, fail. "If you can't overcome shyness in order to make close business friends, then you will have a much more difficult path to success. Perhaps you should think about accepting that. Not everyone is meant to be successful," says Schiff. It may be challenging to do at first, and the more you practice and share the easier it will become.
- Help Others
Athenian historian and philosopher Thucydides once said, "We secure our friends not by accepting favors but by doing them." The same is certainly true when building your network. Approach asking others if they need your help without the intention of receiving anything in return. By asking people in your network what they need and how you can help, not only will you provide great value to them, they will more than likely return the favor.
Your network is your biggest business resource made up of the most valuable tool in business -- the people in it! Get to know as much as you can about the people in your success network.
While you may not need anything today, this network is an arsenal of ideas, solutions, advice, assistance and more. Your solution may be sitting right next to you without you ever knowing it. You could be one phone call or email away from solving your problem or helping someone in your network solve theirs. Start sharing what you need while keeping your mind open and being willing to help others and you'll significantly increase your chances of success.