Far too often, when I hear people talk about wanting to start their own business, they’re under the mistaken impression that all it takes is hanging their shingle out, throwing open the front doors, and waiting for the throngs of customers and clients to climb over each other in an attempt to be first in line. It would be nice if building a business was that straightforward but the truth of the matter is that building a business requires a concerted and extended effort on the part of the business owner(s).
Networks aren’t the same as networking. Networking is when you interact with other people to exchange information, cultivate contacts, and pick-up on potential leads which will further your career or your business. While it’s true that you can network a network, what I’m referring to is the group of interconnected people who share your common business interests and who form an integral part of your inner circle of influence. If you’ve built a network that doesn’t support your business interests, all the networking in the world within that network won’t amount to a hill of beans. Go for quality over quantity, and proven track records over tenuous social connections that are supposedly more connected.
Contracts are king.
The fastest way to lose someone in your network is to work without a contract in place. Contracts spell out the important details of a job and can settle misunderstandings without negatively impacting on your network. If problems arise, always refer to the contract. Don’t modify the agreement unilaterally and don’t allow other signatory parties to the contract to modify the agreement unilaterally. Should you hit an impasse, lawyers and/or the courts will appreciate a clear, concise, well-written contract to help sort matters out.
Only add reliable businesses and business people to your network.
Some experts will say that having a long list with whom you can work means you’ll never be without that important someone for your next project, having a reliable, smaller list coupled with a solid marketing plan is the more viable option. It wastes less time, reduces stress, and instills confidence in the success of your projects.
Share your network of contacts.
This may sound contrary to what you believe are strong business practices. The fact of the matter is that if you share your network of contacts with reliable businesses and business people in your network, they will almost always return the favor. What’s more, word will get around as to the quality of people and businesses with whom you partner which increases not only your visibility in the business community, but also adds to how customers, clients, and the business community think of you and your business. Nothing spreads faster than word-of-mouth, and you just can’t buy any better advertising than positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
Your competitors aren’t really your competitors.
While they may well be called competitors, the term feeds the mindset — albeit inadvertently — that you are in an adversarial position when faced with another business or business person in the same field as your own. If your business requires you to knock out everyone else on the way to the brass ring, then perhaps the adversarial concept works for you. It certainly works for certain sports. However, businesses tend to work best on collaborative and cooperative fields, so it’s time to replace the word competitor with the more accurate word colleague.
Loyal fan bases aren’t just for musicians.
Social media has its place in the business world as does blogging and eNewsletters. Give customers, clients, contractors, business associates, et al a reason to connect with you beyond the brick-and-mortar aspect of business. Start out by finding out what they want to hear from you. For example, if your forte is marketing, write a blog on the different ways to market products and services. Provide reliable information and your fan base will grow.
Organize events and get involved in other people’s and other businesses events. Cross promote events and don’t be afraid to do more than what may be expected of you. Success isn’t measured solely on what’s in the money drawer at the end of the day. Success is also measured by how invested you are in your community and on what side of the give-and-take equation you focus on.
Building a successful business is more than just business. There’s so much more to business than that. Don’t be afraid to be human while you’re building your business. Having a softer side doesn’t make you and your business weak, and it by no means implies that you can’t hold your own when needs dictate.
In being a strong supporter of other businesses and business people, you’ll find that same support returned to your own business, projects, and events. Call it karma or reciprocity or anything else you may want to call it: The bottom line is that this is how you build a strong business.