For most solopreneurs (and small business owners in general), “networking” falls in the marketing column. It’s a way to find new prospects and build relationships with existing clients. But if you just focus on getting more customers from your networking, you miss out on the most powerful connections that can support your business: your fellow solopreneurs.
Putting your focus on building a robust and active network of small business owners can be a huge boost as you build your own business. You can massively leverage your marketing time by engaging with other professionals who are on the same path as you.
Who Should You Network With?
Before you start reaching out to people, it makes sense to develop a plan. You want to be strategic with who you connect. Don’t just connect with the people you bump into.
Too often, small business owners think that they have to connect with Gary Vaynerchuk, Dan Pink, or Simon Sinek to benefit from a strong network. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Connecting with big names isn’t a free ticket to success. And it’s hard to reach out to the big names because they’re busy.
Instead, look at the large group of solopreneurs who are putting in the same effort to build their business skills, products, and markets as you are. They aren’t your competition, they’re your colleagues. There are thousands of small entrepreneurs out there plying their craft, and they are good people to know.
What is a Good Solopreneur Network?
A successful network is a web of mutually-beneficial relationships. They say that a rising tide raises all ships. You want to be able to contribute to others just as much as find ways that your connections can help you. If you approach building your network with a “what’s in it for me” mentality, you’ll struggle.
But by looking for ways to help others, it takes the stress off of you. If you are just trying to “take”, people will lose faith in you and will ignore your overtures. But if you find ways to create value for others, you’ll create social capital in the relationship. Then, when you do need help with something, your network will happy to dive in.
That doesn’t mean you have to walk into every conversation with a stack of referrals to hand out. You can:
- Offer feedback on new products or services.
- Recommend business resources that you’ve used.
- Point people towards a book or podcast that has been helpful.
- Lend a sympathetic ear.
- Invite others to events that you are attending.
Why Do You Need to Build Your Solopreneur Network?
This isn’t a feel-good exercise. A solid network of solopreneurs surrounding you can be very helpful. These people are working on the same challenges as you, and many have similar goals. There’s a lot to gain:
- Marketing Support – This is one of the first reasons that you might want to build your solopreneur network. It’s great to have other business owners who can help you with marketing and promoting your business. Don’t ask for too much (and of course, help them in return). But as you get to know each other you will want to naturally help each other out.
- Collaboration – While not right for everyone, there are lots of ways to work together when building your business. You could write an article together for a popular blog, give feedback to each other, or even work on a business offering together. And other solopreneurs are great sources of referrals for experts like accountants, marketers, attorneys, and all of the other services a small business needs.
- Commiseration – Entrepreneurship is a lonely, challenging slog. It’s often just you, a cup of coffee (or whiskey, depending on the time of day), and your business. Your friends and family might try to cheer you up when you have a bad day. But a fellow solopreneur knows what that grind feels like. It’s good to have a sympathetic ear that truly understands.
Where (and How) Do you Build Your Network?
There are countless ways to meet new people and cultivate the relationships you have. The most important thing to do is keep your eyes open. For example, if you want to find new connections:
- Almost every solopreneur has a website with a contact page. Send them a short message introducing yourself, especially if you’re in the same areas.
- Most areas have local meet-ups for small business owners, for example, a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Stop by and say hello to a few people.
- For all the debate around social media platforms, they’ve given us a higher degree of access than ever before. Join a small business group on Facebook or Linked and join in the conversation.
- Go to an entrepreneurship or industry conference and start conversations with the people in the hall between sessions.
- Listen to podcasts that interview small business owners and reach out to the ones that resonate with you.
But that’s not the whole story. Sending an email or tweet isn’t networking. The key comes in the follow-up.
- Social Media can be a great place to start and continue a conversation that doesn’t require a lot of time or energy.
- Ask if they’d like to grab coffee or lunch (if local) or a 20-minute phone call if not. Consider it a “first date” where you get to find out about each other and the projects you are working on.
- Write an email or send them a tweet or text every once in a while to check in.
- Help promote one of their projects without them asking.
When Should You Start?
Yesterday. Or if you don’t have access to a time machine: Today! One of the key ingredients in building a network of relationships with other solopreneurs is time, because you can’t short-circuit the relationship-building process. Start investing in your network now. Even if you don’t have a an obvious need today, you will in the future.
Imagine the next time you are looking for a insights into a new offering you’re bringing to market. Instead of reaching out to someone for the first time, and hoping that they will give you their time and attention, you just send an email to someone you’ve known for a few years. “Hey! I’ve got a new product we’re coming out with. Can you tell me what you think?”
It’s a great feeling, and it’s great feeling to help someone else that you’ve gotten to know. But it takes focus and energy up front. You have to invest in your business. Get to it, and happy networking!