A network of advisers and supporters can help you make smarter business decisions – particularly when the environment is challenging.

Steve Cordiner
Steve Cordiner

 

Where do business founders and owners turn when they need
help and support?

Running a business can be a lonely job at the best of times, but at the really difficult moments, leaders can feel especially isolated.

The unprecedented challenges of the pandemic and its fall-out offer an extreme example of where making the best choices during uncertain times is incredibly difficult.

But leading the business can also be tough when you’re making happier decisions, like deciding on which growth opportunities to pursue and how.

Having leaders isolated in this way poses real risks for early-stage, fast-growing companies, and not only because it is so miserable having no emotional or practical support. The danger is that leaders stumble into mistakes that could have been avoided, with advice from someone with experience of similar situation.

That might just mean missing out on valuable opportunities, but in the worst cases, such mis-steps can cause real long-term damage.

 

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 are prepared to offer the support you need.

And during uncertain times when the market landscape is challenging, that becomes even more important.

 

Unfortunately, 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 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 with in your industry.

Talk to recruitment agencies, if you’re using such firms to help you find staff – 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, for example.

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, ranging 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 very 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 chair 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 obviously do not need to take advantage of them all – and certainly not at the same time.

But don’t neglect networking: it’s a soft skill that could prove to be a crucial ingredient for business success.

No-one can do it all alone – and when you’re surrounded by uncertainty, you’ll really appreciate having some support.