Support Systems and The Entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur can be an isolating experience, with feelings of misunderstanding or alienation. But it doesn't have to be. Taking risks and disrupting the status quo is something everyone should do in business, but you have to make sure you have others along for the ride.
A concept that is frequently expressed in the social, health, and business fields is that of "Support Networks," which identifies a group of people capable of providing real and lasting help, at least for some time, to an individual or company.
Support Networks provide social, emotional, and, sometimes, material or economic support. It implies having complete identification with the person or persons to whom one turns if required to obtain their support in some way. Still, before turning to them, it is important to be clear about why they are necessary for certain circumstances, that is, to know how to recognize when help is needed or might be needed.
Suppose a support network is important in an individual's personal life. In that case, it is no less important in the business world, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship because becoming an entrepreneur is inherently risky.
Nevertheless, the world needs entrepreneurs, creative people who, through their ideas, can offer solutions to the diverse needs of customers, companies, and society in general. Innovative figures in history, such as Madame C. J. Walker (an entrepreneur who made her fortune with a successful line of hair and beauty products for black women) and Henry Ford (the creator of the famous automobile), are examples of astute and original thinkers who plunged headlong into uncertainty. Decades later, we see their results.
But no great entrepreneur has succeeded without feedback and support. Those who have achieved entrepreneurial fame have done so by working with others and constantly opening themselves up to new ideas; they have surrounded themselves with like-minded peers who challenge them, push them and contribute ideas. They have capitalized on their support networks like Ford and Walker.
A support network is key in any venture, not only to find an experienced advisor, but to connect with peers and future business partners, as well as to achieve a greater social media presence and generate live networking events to be present and get noticed.
Good and thorough guidance from an advisor who has already been through the early stages of a venture is necessary to show what works and warn about what might hinder the process. Someone experienced can evaluate the business model, criticize and suggest some alternative options; they can intervene and act as a guide to mature the project and, importantly strengthen the support networks.
How to Find Support
Before going out to look for people to build a support network with, it is necessary to determine where the entrepreneurial process is at and recognize that, to refine skills and reach the next level, it is necessary to maintain a humble "student" mentality; arrogance before the first achievements will only end up hurting in the long run.
Some companies hold weekly or biweekly meetings to take stock of what has been achieved and to assess where they are in the process. These meetings usually raise many questions that, on the one hand, warn of possible critical situations and on the other, motivate the company to face the problems that are looming on the near horizon.
Whether a new company or an established one, it is important to be always connected to discover potential members of the support network. For example, having a Linkedin account is a gold mine, especially for new entrepreneurs, as it allows them to locate and connect with potential members of the network and even find potential customers; Buffer is also a valuable time saver that allows them to manage and optimize their presence in social networks, offering supreme organization.
You can also consider establishing a presence on professional entrepreneur websites such as StartupNation, or use various forums to chat and connect with like-minded peers and business owners.
When Alexa Von Tobel, founder and CEO of Inspired Capital, founded LearnVest, a financial planning firm, she was only in her early 20s, a Harvard Business School dropout, and during a financial crisis. He recounts that one of the best supports he received during the early days was from friends in the same boat. "I created a community of fellow entrepreneurs. We shared our war stories and, more often than not, realized that we were facing incredibly similar challenges. We needed to create a safe space where we could trust each other and know everything we shared was 100% confidential."
One of those friends was Lucy Deland, founder of PaperlessPost, and with her, he exchanged thoughts on their biggest challenges, which eventually led them to found Inspired Capital.
Like Alexa, every entrepreneur should seek to network with other entrepreneurs and try to participate in meetings with them to strengthen ties that allow for a broader network. It takes time, but the effort is worth it.
Relationships are vital to get through tough times, but they can also help to be part of a broader community. Many professional organizations and entrepreneur groups can provide a larger support system to expand the network.
When it comes to a network of entrepreneurs, think big and give priority to people with more industry experience, but don't overlook people from other sectors, as they may be able to share valuable insights and advice. In any case, you must have a relationship with several people to determine with whom you feel more comfortable and understood. Over time, it will be necessary to reflect on how you are doing and what you have improved in the venture and refine your priorities.
Last but not least, you need to think about how to structure your life to feel more supported in all aspects. One of the great privileges of being an entrepreneur is that you can make key decisions about how and when you work, including choosing an office that reduces commuting times or determining schedules.
Who To Count On
Having a network of people, whether or not they are from the sector where the venture is developed, implies being open to criticisms and challenges. The important thing is that these criticisms and opinions are from honest people since you will be sharing ideas with them that could attract competition. Additionally, there will be people close to you, such as family members, spouses, or friends who, however well-intentioned they may be, may not be able to help when it comes to more specific and subtle details of the operation.
Therefore, it is good to consider some characteristics of possible members of a business support network. Of course, you will likely start with friends and family in the early days as an entrepreneur. Still, at the same time, you should start reaching out to other business owners, either through social media or by contacting some of the contributors to trade publications.
If you think of family or friends, you will surely receive important emotional support thanks to the closeness and affection generated over time. With them, it is possible to share those sensitive points of the operation and business ideas openly, with confidence, and without fear. This group generates a positive environment in which it is possible to brainstorm and weigh the pros and cons of the entrepreneur's thinking patterns.
A survey conducted in 2022 revealed that more than half of the respondents rely on family in formal and informal roles vital to the business. In addition, friends and family provide a support system that helps entrepreneurs manage stress, maintain perspective and improve work-life balance, even amid the chaos and crushing responsibility of founding and running a business.
But in addition to moral support, entrepreneurs often benefit from monetary contributions and investments from family and friends. Financial support can help them lay a firm business foundation or provide a lifeline during financial difficulties.
Financial help, emotional support, and companionship weave a web of connections that helps small businesses find stability. Based on a survey conducted between March and May 2022, Bank of America's Small Business Owners Report includes responses from 1,037 U.S. small business owners. The survey revealed that 70% of business owners plan to acquire financing for their businesses. Of that percentage, 12% said they plan to turn to family and friends for financing. Meanwhile, a Clutch study found that 22% of entrepreneurs received financing from friends or family in the first three months of launching their businesses.
But, on the other hand, this group of family and friends may lack objectivity since, in most cases, it is likely that they have not gone through a similar situation as the one seeking support from the network. So, they will likely only instill encouragement, even if they have no idea how to help the entrepreneur.
Given the above, and in situations where it is important to have specific and experienced advice, it is advisable to turn to a mentor, i.e. people who have gone through similar situations to those experienced by the entrepreneur or who are teachers or experts in the sector in which the venture is developed, including former bosses.
The important thing is that this support network includes people who have experienced the ups and downs in the sector corresponding to that of the venture, whether they have succeeded or "failed," as they will be the most objective when it comes to finding solutions to the problems faced by sharing their own experiences and will be interested in their advice and recommendations having a positive effect.
It is important not to overuse the members of this network so as not to oversaturate them and prevent them from giving up on the help; we must not forget that we all have a time limit that we expect to be respected and that everything has a limit. Therefore, it must be organized and intentional when talking to them.
Other possible members of a support network can be current or potential customers or consumers, who can be a good bet, especially those consumers who already know the products or services of the venture and who, eventually, may have already recommended them to others.
A good relationship with customers will help identify their needs and desires, and their comments and opinions can help improve the development of the venture or, at least, validate new ideas. In addition, it builds trust, which could lead to more potential business. Finally, these customers can also be advocates for the products and services they receive from the company.
In many ways, customers know the products and services, and therefore, their support will lead to more honest opinions, mainly because they have already experienced the product's or service's impact.
However, be careful not to accept too much advice from these support network members as they may either ask for too much in return for their opinions, or their input may not improve the venture.
Other Support Networks
There are more support groups in a network that can make an important contribution to keeping the entrepreneur focused and motivated through ideas, referrals and courses. Among them, the following can be considered:
Accountability Partners (AP) are among the most important in the network as they bring projects to completion in the short term. This involves letting the AP know the project, the estimated completion date, and the desired outcome; together, they set up a schedule of visits where progress is reported, challenges and next steps are discussed, and, if necessary, advice or brainstorming is requested. This free or paid virtual relationship requires both parties' commitment.
Coaches - They help the entrepreneur's personal or professional development. They are paid for a specific period, although this can be extended or terminated before the end of the term. You just have to be sure that the people you are considering hiring are qualified in the venture's development sector.
Mastermind Groups - These are small groups that help you advance professionally and meet regularly; each team member has a turn to talk about their successes and challenges, brainstorm ideas, and consider possible solutions based on suggestions from team members. They meet in person or virtually for a long or short period. These groups can be formal or informal and with paid or unpaid memberships.
Online groups - These are very practical when you need help, especially when you spend most of your time online. Most of these groups are on Facebook or LinkedIn, and the most effective ones have active moderators who post frequently and hold members accountable. Their benefits include meeting great new people, giving and receiving help, and accountability. Their main feature is that they are open to acquiring knowledge and experience from the new entrepreneur.
Meetups - Allow you to connect in person with individuals with similar interests with whom you can do presentations or workshops. This can lead to potential partners for business projects. Most meetups are free to attend. However, some events require a small fee.
Business Development Centers - These organizations have consultants and partners to assist at all levels of the business. They organize workshops, seminars, conferences, and networking events, sometimes in partnership with organizations that want to reach entrepreneurs. They offer opportunities to present a business to investors and banks for financing and connect entrepreneurs who can become customers or partners.
But it's also good to get on the other side of the coin and spend some time supporting other entrepreneurs. Studies show that sharing with others is helpful for one's mental well-being and that you feel good when you can share as it lowers the stress of both people in the equation, which is a win-win for everyone.
If you want to support, you must also be willing to return the favor. Some simple methods to support other business owners may include the following:
Networking Events - These groups allow the exchange of experiences to keep abreast of trends in the corresponding sector and establish lasting relationships. In them, the contribution of those who are in the process is also a matter of learning.
Sharing passions - Working together with others for non-commercial reasons, such as non-profit social service to the community, can grow a business relationship organically, based on a mutual desire to build community. Those who are passionate about giving their time and helping others succeed are the ones you will want to do business with later.
Social media support - The easiest way for companies to support each other is through social media and other online channels, by joining industry-related groups, and by following people who have blogs, video channels, podcasts, and other interesting content. It's a win-win situation for everyone to network and expand outreach by helping others to do the same.
Whatever the members of the support network, it is good to keep in mind that as the business grows, it is likely that you will have to change members, in whole or in part; someone who was helpful at the beginning may not be as useful as the business grows. This means that the support search is a dynamic process. In the case of customers within such a network, the group needs to be renewed frequently; you should diversify your profile and talk to many of them at various stages of the venture's development to avoid that older information may prove to be a block to growth.
Don't be afraid. I'm sure you're a little crazy about being an entrepreneur. It's not easy. You're taking risks to live a fuller life. That takes courage.
To be sure, being an entrepreneur can be an isolating experience, with feelings of misunderstanding or alienation as a matter of course. But it doesn't have to be. Taking risks and disrupting the status quo is something everyone should do in business, but you have to make sure you have others along for the ride.
As an entrepreneur, you have to foster a creative and unique spirit of business innovation. Prioritize networking and building relationships with others, use social media to join groups, reach out to others and make connections.
Finally, think about the following phrases:
- A convinced entrepreneur is not the same as a proud entrepreneur: the former learns by listening, and the latter thinks he already knows everything.
- Sharing your idea does not mean that others will steal it: look for the right interlocutors because their comments will strengthen it.
- Do not condition the success of your business on the loyalty of a strategic partner whom you cannot replace in 24 hours.
- Keep your learning capacity alive, if it weakens every two years, it is advisable to give it a boost through a good training course.
- It is good - even necessary - to come out of your shell as an entrepreneur. You will thank yourself in the long run.
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