Every famous business leader and mentor talks about the importance of their network, and all the beneficial discussions they’ve had with masterminds and business friends, but actually finding that network in the first place is far easier said than done.
Starting to build a network from scratch is a daunting task, especially when the majority of your time is already taken up by the daily running and building of your business, but it is possible. It’s always worth setting time aside to forge these vital business connections, not only so you can expand your business opportunities, but also have others to turn to for advice and bounce ideas off of.
Here are 5 of the best ways to build a strong network around your business.
Join Online Communities
The easiest way to find other people to talk to is by joining online communities. The internet allows us to not only reach customers all around the world but other businesses and influencers, too. It does take time to find good communities where it is worth spending some time – all too often Facebook groups and forums are full of people who don’t even have the wherewithal to do a simple Google search for their question, so keep your ear out for tip-offs for legitimate online business communities.
If you have a little extra time, you could try starting your own. It’s a good idea to try and invite business owners who are at a certain level of business that would be beneficial to you, as while we all have to start somewhere, someone who has been in business even for a year or two or has employees won’t get any benefit from answering thousands of beginner questions.
Invite Out Others to Eat
If you get the opportunity to meet up with other business owners and influencers in person, either locally or at a conference or trade show, invite people out to eat each night. Humans have been meeting and talking over food for thousands of years, and it’s one of the most relaxed settings available to get to know one another and cover business topics.
Going out for dinner or lunch also has the major bonus that, unlike meeting up for a drink at a bar, you and the people you invite are far less likely to get a little carried away and drink too much. While a drink together may offer a great bonding experience, there’s also the risk that someone will embarrass themselves.
Join a Mastermind
If you’re at the right level, joining a mastermind (paid or otherwise) can be rocket fuel for your business life. Not only will you have the chance to network with other business leaders who face the same challenges as you, but you can peek into their businesses and foresee future issues before they ever come up in your own organization.
If you choose to join a paid mastermind, vet the organizer and other members (if possible) for legitimacy. There are plenty of people online who are happy to take your money but are only really “playing” at being in business and have yet to ride the ups and downs of running a business for real. This is less likely to be the case for an in-person mastermind, but always do your due diligence.
Offer to Help Other Business Owners
Offering to help out other businesses is a great way to forge strong connections, especially if you’re trying to reach out to someone who is much further along in their career and who you hope to be a mentor figure for you.
Everyone knows that networking implies that you want something out of it – even if it’s only someone to ask for advice from time to time – so be careful that you don’t offer to do something too valuable for free more than once. “Friends pay friends” is a saying in many business circles, and you should definitely take it to heart. It’s easy to be taken advantage of, so look for genuine friendships more than an “if I do this, you do that” back and forth.
Don’t Go Into Networking Half-Heartedly
It’s difficult for anyone to start networking if they don’t already have friends in business to introduce them to other networks, but it can be especially difficult if you are at all introverted. Unless you’re the kind of extrovert who loves walking into a room and meeting everyone in it, you’ll have at least some apprehension about putting yourself out there.
This is where you really have to push yourself to attend new events or reach out to people you never would have previously. This is hard, but it’s essential if you’re determined to build a network. Often, networking can feel like being the new kid at school, and just like being at school, you have to give yourself time to meet new people and find the people you click with. If you want to build a network but have yet to sign up for that first event, send that first email, or even sign up for an online community – do it now. The first steps are always the hardest, so push yourself to set the wheels in motion today.