Who you know does matter. To speed up business growth and avoid pitfalls that can stunt growth, you need multiple networks: those that provide support and those that provide connections. Often, the two overlap; sometimes they are separate.
Networking and peer groups are two different animals. You have deep relationship with members of your peer groups. They’re part of your inner circle. Networking is about weak ties and acquaintances — people you may have met at an event, through the local business association, online or who are part of other groups you belong to, such as your college alumni network.
Even if you hate the thought of networking, it’s something you must do, in order to make your business known and to open up options for partnerships, new customers or clients, and get information useful to your business.
The weak ties built through networking are the greatest source of new ideas and information. Attending conferences, business, and alumni events are good networking opportunities. So, too, are online options.
If no professional group exists near you, go online, advises Hester Taylor Clark, founder of The Hester Group.
Discussion forums and LinkedIn groups can provide a lot of information and feedback. “You can send out a question and 10 women business owners will answer with what their experience was,” Taylor Clark says.
The relationships are not as strong but can provide valuable feedback, referrals, and connections. In-person follow up of online connections build those relationships into something deeper and more valuable to both parties.
2. Peer advisory groups
Supportive networks are those with whom you can brainstorm ideas, benefit from the experience of others, and share your own experience. They can guide you, keep you accountable to your goals, and vet your ideas.
Sarah Valentini, president of radius financial group, inc., has relied on such groups as The Commonwealth Institute and the Women Presidents Organization (WPO), both of which focus on peer mentoring for women entrepreneurs.
Membership in peer support groups “give me a forum where I can talk confidentially about business with people who have similar interests but are not competitors,” Valentini says. “It is a room full of consultants with no ulterior motive, other than to help each other.”
The issues discussed in these groups are those of importance to members of the group and the talent brought to bear on them is impressive. “In my group, there are a CPA and an attorney and a PR specialist,” Valentini says. “They run big companies and have expertise that would cost thousands of dollars to ask a simple question. I don’t have to pay for all of that and I have the opportunity to get introductions I would never be able to get otherwise.”
3. Connecting through learning
Connections and focused advice for your business can also be accessed through resources such as the SBA’s SCORE and its classes and formal business programs, and through sponsored by government agencies, foundations or corporations.
4. Advisory boards
Colleen Molter, president of QED National, a fast-growing, award-winning small business. Molter is a member of WPO, the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE), and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). She understands the value of a peer advisory group and networking groups but she is expanding her support system to include an advisory board.
In the past, QED has focused on providing IT services to the financial sector; its lack of a diverse customer base caused hard times when the financial sector had hard times so Molter wants to diversify. To accomplish that, she is setting up an advisory board.
The group will consist of business people from various disciplines who will give objective feedback, brainstorm, and help QED reach more mid-sized businesses. “My team doesn’t have contacts in that space so that is what the advisory board will be about,” Molter says.
There you have it: Your team doesn’t necessarily have all the skill, information, connections, and resources that can take your business to the next level. Leverage who you know to fill the gaps.
Like this article, here are some other Forbes articles you may like.
- 10 Tips for Creating a Power Network
- Stop Networking, and Start Making Yourself the Connective Hub
- Why Women’s Networking Groups Fail
Adapted from Flickr image by Noah Sussman