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Startup founders can benefit hugely from having a support network. Whether it’s for business advice, emotional support or to scope out opportunities for collaboration, a strong network can make or break your chances of success.
It’s common for founders to struggle with building a support network. Reaching out to new people can be nerve-wracking, plus it’s often hard to justify time out of your business when there are a million other things to do.
However, creating a support network is well worth the time investment. Connect with the right people and they can provide invaluable support or direction when you need it most.
In this guide, we give practical steps to help you start building a support network right now and get the most value from your time.
How to build a support network
Start by setting your objectives. What are you looking to gain from a network? Do you want to connect with peers who are at a similar stage in business or with someone who could offer mentorship?
Without clear objectives, you risk putting too much time in networking that won’t benefit you or your business.
Reasons for developing a support network include:
- Business advice
- Emotional support
- Collaboration opportunities
- New customers and referrals
- Raise brand awarenes
Different contacts and groups will be able to support different goals. Understanding your objectives will help you identify the networking opportunities most aligned with your goals.
Grow your network from existing relationships
Most people will already have a network of some sort. This could include family, friends, classmates, former colleagues, previous employers and so on.
Start growing your support network from the relationships you’ve already cultivated. Look through your LinkedIn contacts to jog your memory and see what peers are up to. Then, reach out to people who could help connect you with the people you’re looking for.
Look for local opportunities
Most places have a wealth of local events and meet-ups for different kinds of businesses. These might be grouped by sector (for example, meetups for those in the tech industry), growth stage (like pre-start, startups or scaleups) or location.
Once you’ve found groups to connect to, try to add as much value as possible. Contribute to discussions, arrange one-on-one coffees, and use your experience and skills to help others.
As the old adage goes, you get out what you put in. The reason most founders fail to establish strong networks is usually due to the lack of time put in, as opposed to the lack of opportunity.
If you’re serious about developing a network, be prepared to prioritise meetings and put other tasks on the back burner if necessary.
Reach out to business owners you admire
Take the time to research businesses that have done or are doing what you want to do. Finding mentors that have achieved similar goals can be a huge motivator, plus there are valuable lessons to be gained from their experiences.
Once you’ve identified a business, reach out to the founder or a member of the senior team. Ask if they’d be willing to meet for a coffee or have a phone or video call. The worst that can happen is they say no.
Make connections online
Whilst the internet is no substitute for getting out and meeting people face-to-face, there are abundant opportunities to grow your support network online.
Social media websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook offer community groups that focus on a certain industry or shared interest. In these communities, people often ask for advice and share wisdom. Job opportunities and social events will also be posted in these groups.
It’s not only social media, though. Lots of industries have dedicated forums and websites that offer similar opportunities to connect with likeminded people, so hit Google and have a browse.
Attend events and enter competitions
Once you’ve found your feet in the local area, it’s time to cast your net wider and look for opportunities on a national – or even international – level.
Competitions, industry events, tradeshows and so on bring together people from many different places and perspectives. They are a great way to grow your network.
The Pitch is a free competition that gives startups the support to grow and the platform to raise investment. The competition not only provides the opportunity to link startups with investors, it provides excellent networking opportunities with established business owners and other startup founders.
Recruit a business adviser
Being a startup founder can be lonely and challenging. Having a business adviser that can act as a sounding board and is there when you need solid business advice is priceless.
Five tips for successful networking
1. Be patient
Building a network is a slow process. It takes time to form deep and meaningful relationships with people.
2. Give and take
A support network is a two-way street. Consider not only what you can get out of relationships, but what you can put in. Helping others is one of the most natural ways to build relationships.
Give without expecting anything back. Take help without thinking you need to repay the person; you might never be able to repay the favour but you can always pay it forward to others.
Many startup founders fall into the trap of asking for favours too soon – or never asking. Provide value to other people in your network and then, when the time is right – ask.
3. Share your contacts
One of the biggest ways to help people in your network is by making introductions. Perhaps someone is looking for a new supplier they can trust or additional help with their accounts. Think about who you’ve worked with in the past and make introductions where relevant.
4. Remember that networking can be informal
Ultimately, networking boils down to building relationships. Don’t think it has to be formal all the time. In fact, an informal approach can be a much more organic way to form bonds. A leisurely walk or a quiet drink in a cafe can give you just as much insight as a Zoom meeting.
5. Quality over quantity
Finally, remember that it’s the quality of your support network that counts – not the quantity of contacts. Having a handful of people who you know, trust, like and respect is far more valuable than having thousands of connections on social media that you never speak to. Spend time getting to know people you meet and practice the art of relationship building.
Want to meet other founders, grow your network and pitch to a panel of investors? The Pitch is a free competition that gives startups the support to grow and the platform to raise investment. Applications are now open for The Pitch 2022 – enter here.