Steve Cordiner’s monthly Challenger column looks at the challenges facing fast-growth businesses as they scale. In this month’s column, he looks at how building a network around you can transform your business potential.
The life of an entrepreneur can be a lonely one. Building a business from scratch takes time, determination and money – and very often, you’ll be ploughing the furrow all by yourself. Even if you recruit staff early on, you’ll be the boss to whom everyone looks for all the answers.
This is potentially dangerous for small, fast-growing companies, and not only because it can be miserable having no emotional or practical support. The risk is that you stumble into mistakes that could have been avoided with advice from someone with experience of what you’re trying to achieve. That might just mean missing out on valuable opportunities. Or, in the worst cases, those mistakes could put you out of business.
The solution is to build a network of supporters and advisers with the knowledge and experience to help your business succeed. Whether formal or informal, you need a group of people around you who can act as a sounding board and offer valuable guidance.
Often, this is the sort of activity that takes a back seat as entrepreneurs’ time is consumed by the day-to-day tasks of running the business. But it’s crucial that you make building your network a priority from day one: it’s an investment in the future growth of the business, just as valuable as, say, a new piece of capital equipment or the recruitment of new talent.
There are lots of ways to build such a network. Start by looking for industry events relevant to your business, from conferences to seminars and training days. Do your homework in advance, making contact with the organisers and working out which attendees you want to meet. Be prepared to seize the initiative.
Leverage your existing contacts. Ask your suppliers to introduce you to other businesses they work within your industry. Talk to your recruitment agencies, if you’re using such firms to help you find staff, since it’s their job to know everyone worth knowing in your sector. And if you’ve raised money, your investors can also be hugely useful here, introducing you to their contacts across the industry, as well as offering their own expertise.
The key to these interactions is to be honest and open; think about what you can offer in return for people’s time – where the benefit of your own expertise and experience might be helpful. If there isn’t currently a forum in your industry where like-minded businesses can meet and discuss their challenges and opportunities, perhaps you could launch one.
Entrepreneurs’ clubs and networks can also be a valuable support, offering an opportunity to share experiences with others in the process of building businesses. Many of the challenges in growing a business are industry-agnostic – from the best way to raise finance to how to close a talent gap – and finding out what has worked for entrepreneurs in other fields can be hugely valuable. At the least, your fellow entrepreneurs will understand the pressures you face.
As your business grows, you may want to formalise your support structures. Finding the right chairman - or other non-executive directors – for your business can provide a massive boost, offering a new source of trusted and expert counsel, as well as access to their own networks. Also consider finding a business mentor – someone who will agree to work with you, operating as sounding board, but also offering a degree of coaching.
The opportunities are almost endless and entrepreneurs don’t need to take advantage of them all – certainly not at the same time. Equally, however, don’t neglect networking, which could be a crucial ingredient for business success. No-one can do it all alone.
If you’d like to find out more about Livingbridge Growth or speak to Steve about your business, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve's column is featured monthly in Bdaily.