Entrepreneurship is a lonely, but rewarding venture but you don’t have to go at it alone. While new business owners are advised to have an accountant and lawyer on their team, there’s rarely mention about the support networks you need as you start and grow your business. The people in these networks keep you focused, motivated and accountable. They are sources of encouragement, ideas, referrals and resources. Additionally, they give you feedback, constructive criticism and guidance.
Regardless of which stage your business is in, you’re going to need support. It’s best to establish your support systems as soon as you consider starting your own business. Then, cultivate those relationships as your business grows. Following, are the 9 support networks entrepreneurs need to succeed.
A mentor is someone who has experience in the area in which you need help and is willing to help you. They provide direction and guidance, and shorten your learning curve by months, even years. Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal, in-person or virtual. Generally speaking, the mentor gives more than the mentee. However, the mentee can reciprocate by checking in periodically and asking if he or she needs anything. When contacting your mentor for advice or check-ins, be respectful of his or her time.
2. Accountability Partners (AP)
Accountability partners are the most important support person in your network. They hold you accountable for completing short-term projects. This is either a free or paid virtual relationship that requires commitment from both parties.
Here’s how this relationship works: You tell your AP the project you’re working on, the estimated completion date and desired result. Send a tentative outline of the steps required to complete the project. You both set a mutually convenient check-in schedule.
During check-ins, you will give an update on your progress, discuss challenges and next steps and ask for advice, if needed. You could also brainstorm ideas. Your partner can be a mentor, coach, friend or colleague. Essentially, it is anyone committed and invested in your success.
Coaches help you develop personally or professionally. You hire and pay them for a set amount of time, although the time could be extended upon agreement by both parties. You can work with multiple coaches simultaneously. Be sure the people you’re considering hiring are qualified to help you before investing in their services. Also remember that you can fire them if they don’t provide the service and support you need.
4. Mastermind Groups
Mastermind groups are small groups that help you move forward professionally and keep you accountable in your endeavor. The group meets on a regular basis and each team member has a turn to discuss his or her successes and challenges, brainstorm ideas and consider possible solutions based on suggestions from team members. They meet in-person or virtually over a long or short-term period. These groups can be formal or informal and with paid or unpaid memberships.
5. Online Groups
Online groups are very convenient when you need help, especially when you spend most of your time online. Most groups are either on Facebook or LinkedIn. The most effective groups have active moderators that post frequently and hold members accountable.
The benefits of these online groups include, but are not limited to, meeting new and cool people, giving and receiving help and accountability. In addition, you’ll develop relationships that may grow offline.
In order to benefit from these groups, though, you have to be active. Don’t just appear with the expectation of getting help or drop in periodically. Be prepared to share your knowledge and experiences consistently. Memberships to online groups are typically free.
Check out Meetup.com to connect in-person with people with similar interests in business, hobbies or fitness. In addition to meeting people and learning new things, there may opportunities to conduct presentations and workshops. You may also connect with potential partners for business projects. Most meetups are free to attend however, some events require a small fee.
7. Professional Organizations
These member-based organizations cater to professionals in specific professions and industries. Continuing education, updates on industry news and laws, and networking opportunities are just a few benefits they offer. You have to pay annual dues, as well as registration fees for monthly meetings and other events.
Friends are your foundation. They will listen to you, encourage you, and be honest with you, even if you don’t like it. When they may not know what you’re talking about. They may even ask clarifying questions and offer suggestions. Most importantly, they will comfort you during challenging times.
9. Business Development Centers
Your business growth is their priority. They have counselors and partners to help you at all levels of business. They hold workshops, seminars, conferences and networking events, sometimes in partnership with organizations who want to reach business owners. They offer opportunities to pitch and present your business to investors and banks for funding. And they connect you with other business owners who can become clients or partners. Counseling services are free, but you do have to pay for workshops, conferences and other special events and services.