When 'Who You Know' Can Actually Hurt Your Entrepreneurial Success. Here's Why.

Sometimes tapping into people you already know to help your business can backfire. There are many reasons to find your own network rather than asking someone for a favor.

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By Lauren Hirsch-Williams

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Almost everyone across all industries is familiar with the adage that success is based on who you know, not what you know. That can certainly be true.

We all want a broad network of people, colleagues and friends. It's human nature and helps us have a community we can turn to when we want to socialize, learn about solutions to daily life and advance our careers.

Are you having trouble with back pain? Ask someone you know to recommend a good doctor. Visiting an out-of-town location and want good restaurant recommendations? Ask a friend. Are you trying to raise seed capital for your startup entrepreneurial concept? Ask a business colleague if they know any investors to introduce you to.

That's how it works. Who you know helps you find success in all aspects of life. Right? Maybe. But it can also be a "false positive," especially when it comes to business. How? Let me share a few ways an existing network can hurt you as you pitch your project to people.

1. The person you know may not be a decision-maker

Just because you know someone with a big title doesn't mean they can approve or push your project where it needs to go. Sometimes they can, but usually not, especially nowadays when authority and decision-making have become a complex web.

2. They don't look at you in terms of business

If you have a friend in an influential position, it may be hard for them to take you seriously in business. They know you as a tennis buddy or a neighbor and have separated work from personal. They don't see you in the same light as business colleagues. They may be polite. But will they stake their business reputation on a person they know from down the street? Maybe to your face, the answer is "sure," but behind closed doors? Not necessarily. These "friends" can be the most devastating. They will "nice" you to death and blame others for the ultimate "no" you receive. Sadly, you never had a chance.

Related: Friends With(out) Benefits: Mixing Business With Pleasure

3. It can be harder for you to ask a friend for a favor

Let's say your wife's best friend is married to the head of a company and you ask a favor of him. What happens to those weekly Friday night dinners or Sunday brunches? That couple will suddenly come up with excuses to skip out on these traditional events. Why? The husband doesn't want to be hounded, nor does he want to be confronted with a person he isn't able to help. The friendship days have been altered (or are gone altogether), and your wife is upset with you forever.

4. Bad impressions on another project are hard to break

If you already have a network of people to go to with your projects and you've made poor choices or produced subpar projects with them (even if it's just once), they'll remember. Any new work you bring into the fold will be cast in the shadow of your old work or old behavior. It's tough to wipe a slate clean once it's been soiled. This is even more true in today's business atmosphere. Most executives are overly sensitive and risk-averse when protecting their jobs. Beware. It's challenging to reinvent yourself. Many people do it at some point in their lives, but once you've tapped into your network with a project that turns out to be a complete bust and a total waste of time, reinvention is like pushing a peanut up Mt. Kilimanjaro with your nose. It just isn't going to happen very quickly or easily.

5. Once you ask a favor of someone, you'll owe them

Maybe not officially in a spoken way, but in that underneath-behind-the-shadows way. So what? From that moment, all your communication will be slightly restricted. Either by you or by them. You'll be waiting for them to reply to your favor and speculate when you think they'll have an answer for you. And they'll be hesitant to let their guard down if you ask again… and again and again. You don't want to be embarrassed.

On the other hand, if they don't help at all, you then have to suck it up and act as if it doesn't matter (when we all know it does matter, a lot — or you would never have asked in the first place.

6. Your connection might be at too high of a level

Remember the husband of your wife's best friend? If he does run the place, he's too far separated from the initial gatekeepers that screen projects for their worthiness and fit. He doesn't do the job you're asking him to do. Instead of asking for help with your project, he's the one you might want to ask for a referral to the "right" person. A bit of nepotism isn't bad, but you need to know there will be no awkwardness when the deal doesn't pan out.

7. Your timing might be off

You don't always want to use your current network to make a project fly because you may want to save the favor. What if the project you have right now isn't very good? You might think it's impressive, but what do other people think? You don't want to cash in a chip with someone in your network until you know the project has legs and is good and powerful. You need to be 100% certain of your timing and readiness.

So, you see, there are quite a few reasons why tapping into people you know can hurt your chances of success rather than help them.

Can doors open that might not have otherwise opened? Absolutely.

Consider what doors are being opened and why

Are you seeking solutions to a big ask, or are you hoping simply to get a glimpse into a room you might not otherwise have seen? There's a huge difference. So what's a person to do?

Seeking out advice and insight through your own networking is the best way to go when asking a favor of someone you know. You can find those doors on your own, without help from those you know now. Most people are willing to help someone they don't know when they feel the request is sincere and authentic.

Get out and meet people on a regular basis — whether it's in-person or virtually. There are a lot of groups, organizations and mentoring programs to join. Start there and see where things go.

Related: 5 Ways to Connect and Network With Other Entrepreneurs

The key is to learn how to ask

You'll be amazed at how much you can do without having to know so many people already. What we all have at our fingertips today — which, if used correctly — can also change your success path. Use LinkedIn and other business social sites to create new relationships based on the premise you're networking to help each other mutually. There is more opportunity for give-and-take and a fresh start in those scenarios.

No matter where you are in your path, someone out there needs your help or your ideas. Get out there and create a new network of colleagues on your terms without worrying that your weekly Friday night dinner will now be awkward and uncomfortable.

Lauren Hirsch-Williams

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

High-Performance/Business Relevance Strategist

Lauren Hirsch-Williams is a high-performance and business-relevance strategist helping professionals better read people and win the room. She's served as worldwide director of advertising at PepsiCo, founder of Global Media Fusion and MovieHatch, and as an executive producer and consultant.

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