A strong entrepreneurial network can help you build valuable relationships with other business owners and entrepreneurs. A diverse one, in terms of age, industries and experience levels, can prove extremely helpful when you're faced with challenges and obstacles.
Sometimes, just the ability to ask a question of someone who's “been there and done that” can be a tremendous help. Here are five simple ways to build up your own entrepreneurial network.
1. Get involved in your local business community.
With more than 28 million small businesses in the United States, there are likely to be plenty of fellow entrepreneurs in your local community. Search online for local meetup events that cater to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Co-working spaces are another great place to network and connect. And local Chamber of Commerce chapters offer organized events and valuable networking opportunities.
Also, don’t be afraid to walk into a business and introduce yourself to an owner you feel could be a potential beneficial relationship. A simple introduction will open the door for opportunities down the line. Pro tip: arm yourself with coffee and pastry for an especially warm welcome.
2. Be active in online communities.
An online community allows you to connect and engage with business owners all over the world. You can ask questions, share insights and develop long-term business relationships. Other entrepreneurs in the community will take note of your activity, which can lead to a stronger network and word-of-mouth business referrals.
Speaking personally, I didn't see enough online resources for entrepreneurs, so I created my own. To join an online community for like-minded business owners and entrepreneurs, click here to join EBOC (Entrepreneurs and Business Owners Community), for free. In the coming months, I plan to grow the group into one of the largest online communities for entrepreneurs.
3. Talk to everyone you encounter.
Think about how many new people you encounter daily. Every person is a potential new contact. Whether you're out on the town for happy hour or sitting in an airport lounge waiting for your flight -- consider everyone as a potential contact or someone who knows one.
Once you get comfortable, striking up a conversation with a complete stranger becomes almost second nature. You never know whom you might be standing or sitting next to unless you put yourself out there. Some of my most valuable business relationships have started with a casual introduction outside of a traditional business setting.
4. Be active on social media.
While all are great places to grow your network, they also provide an opportunity to showcase your business without being overly promotional. If there is a particular entrepreneur you would like to network with who is outside your local market, use social media to connect. The networks make it easy to connect with almost anyone, regardless of his or her status. Also: You are much more likely to receive a response to a tweet than an email, from someone you perceive to be unreachable.
5. Continuously engage with your network.
Following up, and continuously engaging with, your network is just as important as expanding your network. When you make a new connection, it’s important to touch base with that person within 24 hours, but your effort shouldn't stop there. You need to stay on that individual's radar, so create an email list for your network or consider starting a private Facebook group as another way to stay in touch.
When you stay on your new contacts' radar, you will be the first person they think of when an opportunity suitable for you or your business comes across their desk. A simple monthly email with news and notes about what you have been up to takes just a few minutes of time and keeps your network strong.