It's impossible to do everything by yourself, especially when you’re self-employed and trying to grow your own business. That's why networking is absolutely essential to your success.
But networking isn’t about tacky events, schmoozing sales people and uncomfortable socializing. It is simply a way of looking at and living in the world. Whether you’re a solopreneur, or you have employees, your network is your most important asset. It has to be intentional, rather than happenstance. You must know what and who you need, then figure out what’s missing, so you can find it.
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The first step is determining what you can do yourself and what others can do for you better than you can. This takes practice, but once you figure it out, you will need to develop four different categories of relationships within your network. Make a spreadsheet with the following four categories and begin to fill out names of people you know in each to determine where you might need more connections.
1. Clients and customers. Most people don’t think about clients as part of their network, but they’re actually a very important part. First of all, they pay you. Secondly, if you develop strong relationships with customers, you can keep them around for a while rather than always having to look for new ones.
Think about which client relationships you can build on. When was the last time you were in touch with clients you’d like to continue working with? If it’s been a while, reach out today.
2. Peers and colleagues. If you have a hectic project and no manpower or are looking for a new perspective on a challenge you're tackling, you should be able to reach out to someone from your network of peers and colleagues for help. They can help you with overflow and you can help them. Just don’t confuse peers with competitors.
3. Mentors. Paid or unpaid, formal or informal, near or far, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Which traits make them mentor material? They’ve been there before and they can guide you. Too many self-employed people are unjustly embarrassed by what they don’t know. This prevents them from looking for help, which inhibits growth. Don't be stubborn. Seek the guidance of a mentor and you'll accelerate your success.
4. Referral sources. Any of the people above can be referral sources, too. The best referral sources are the people who know you well, understand your strengths, and recognize the kind of assistance or customers you need. They are open, always networking and love to help. Make sure to invest time with these people. Identify one good connector in your network and get to know them better over coffee.
Real networking is an ongoing effort to cultivate relationships. Forget about awkward interactions and stale cheese plates. The best way to create a great network is to be open and authentic in your daily dealings with people. Strive to help others yourself and it will come back to you tenfold.