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How to Build a Support Network

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As every business leader quickly finds, it's lonely at the top. With the burden of decisions and risks falling on your plate, you need a strong support network that can offer advice and understanding.

"When I started my first business, it was pretty lonely, like it is for most entrepreneurs," says Kevin Miles, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Avantras Consulting Group. Over time, he built a strong group of friends, peers, and mentors that supported him throughout his career and helped his businesses grow.

Building that network takes effort and energy. "You have to put value on building the network and commit the time," Miles says.

Here are five ideas that can help you strengthen your support network:

1. Be bold about reaching out. Especially when you're just starting out, you want to meet potential mentors one on one. To do that, look for experienced leaders you admire and ask them to join you for coffee or drinks. "I was surprised at first by how many people said yes," Miles says. "All I had to do was ask."

Show that you're serious about growing your business and be direct about how they can help you. "You both want to leave the meeting with a clear understanding of where it's going next," Miles says.

2. Host social events. There are plenty of local gatherings for entrepreneurs (check to find some near you), but you can deepen your relationships by hosting one yourself.

Invite people in your network to a dinner or cocktail party and ask each person to bring someone you've never met. Not only will you get to know your peers much better, but your guests will remember that you helped them meet new people too.

Related: Can't Spare the Time to Network? Can You Afford Not To?

3. Organize informal opportunities to talk shop. To build substantive relationships with others in your industry, gather an informal, intimate group to talk about issues in your business. Let them be a source of support and guidance.

For example, a group of tech professionals in New York City gathers monthly to share one lesson that each of them learned from a recent project. Not only can they give each other advice, they learn from each other's mistakes.

4. Give more than you ask to receive. As you build your support network, focus on what you have to offer, not what you have to gain. "You have to give to get," Miles says.

Related: How to Get Your Loved Ones to Love Your Business

Be generous when others need introductions or advice and offer them your support. Pay for drinks after work and congratulate them for small wins. Your little signs of support will add up and make them much more generous with theirs.

5. Make time for old friends. The friends you've known for years are most likely to support you unconditionally, whether or not they have any expertise in your industry. But they need to see that you value the relationship--even when you're busy.

Carve out time every week to say hi, grab a drink, or watch a football game together. You don't have to commit a lot of time if you're overloaded, but you do have to give some work-free time if you want your friends to be there when you need them.

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