6 tips for strengthening your peer networks to better navigate change
COVID-19 has forced small-business owners to adapt in pretty much every way imaginable. The speed at which business has had to transform means you need answers fast as you focus on how to pivot your business. And while it can be challenging to tweak a marketing strategy, identify new suppliers or shift long-term business plans, the upside is you’re not alone. Now’s the time to tap into your network and find solutions as quickly as possible.
Small-business owners are famous for being self-reliant, but this is a time when support from fellow entrepreneurs can really help manage stress, keep up to date on current issues, and identify immediate ideas and proven solutions that will help you navigate this uncharted territory.
“Small-business owners don’t have to face things alone. We’re all facing this together,” Ben Martin, a FedEx grant winner and Entrepreneur Advisory Board (EAB) member, said. “It’s important to tap into a peer network because there’s a good chance someone has thought of something you haven’t yet. You can tap into a knowledge base and hear from others who might have been in businesses a lot longer than you have and have more experience.”
Ben, owner of Dauntless Wine Co., encourages other small-business owners to use social media to build networks. He often turns to Facebook and Reddit as a quick and easy means to stay plugged in with peers.
“As we brainstorm on how we should approach things like curbside pickup and deliveries, it’s helpful to get ideas from peers and learn from their experiences,” he said. “A peer group can help small businesses because it puts together a lot of different minds all working on the same problem.”
Bryce found it’s important to differentiate between socializing and networking. “For a peer network to work well, it needs to be focused. For example, there should be a limited number of people on a call, as well as a limit on the number of topics — really no more than three topics. And each person needs to be given an opportunity to talk.”
Whether you catch up with old contacts or even if you’re connecting for the first time, this can be an opportune moment to reach out to
other business owners since so many are dealing with similar concerns. Developing and strengthening peer networks takes time and effort, and while it may not seem like a priority right now, it can provide immediate and long-term benefits including helping you find new tools, platforms, partnerships and solutions to help solve your most pressing needs.
Tips for building your network
Start with who you know and be open. If you’re not sure where to begin, ask friends if they know other small-business owners who are dealing with some of the same things you are and ask for an introduction! While you shouldn’t be sharing sensitive financial details or other proprietary information, when you are open and appropriately transparent, your peers will respond in-kind.
Set the tone & know your value. Networking is more than making friends. Come into a conversation with a clear idea of what you’d like to discuss. If you’re networking in a group setting, structure the calls or meetings with a shared agenda and clear goals for all participants. Even though you might feel you are the one needing help, your personal experiences and knowledge can bring a unique value to the table.
Talk to a variety of people. It may take time to find people you click with, but every conversation and connection can provide some value – even if it doesn’t seem to address any of your immediate needs. With a simple online search, it’s fairly easy to find a Facebook or LinkedIn group related to your industry or business to join. You might also consider starting your own. If you do, drive discussions by posing interesting questions, sharing pertinent media coverage, articles and other online resources. Extend invitations to small-business owners you feel would provide value to the group.
Identify a mentor. A mentor can be an invaluable resource. Not only can an experienced small-business owner help introduce you to peers, a mentor relationship provides regular opportunities for exchanging ideas and talking through challenges. If you’re not sure how to find a mentor, SCORE, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping small businesses, will help connect you to a mentor based on your personal needs.
Participate in professional associations. There are many resources available from local, regional and national professional associations in nearly every industry. If you haven’t been involved before, you can quickly find several applicable organizations with a little online research. Be sure to also check with your local chamber of commerce to find out about their activities and networking opportunities.
Stay connected. Don’t let distancing get in your way. While personal meetups or formal group networking isn’t always possible, don’t overlook all the tools at your disposal from simple phone calls or texts to video calls, LinkedIn messages, Facebook groups and more. Two other social platforms that can be helpful for peer networking are Alignable, a network for small-business owners with more than 4 million members; and Reddit, a very active platform with a number of moderated small-business discussion groups (“subreddits”) in which you can ask other business owners questions.
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