Let’s be honest here; entrepreneurs are kind of a weird bunch. It really can’t be helped.
If you’re the kind of person who envisions solutions to problems that don’t exist yet, or just plain have the guts to take risks any rational human being would faint at, you’re bound to be a bit weird. It’s our brightest quality as an entrepreneur, because it’s that desire to create change that allows entrepreneurs to be the pioneers and leaders of the world.
After all, you can’t be part of the pack if you want to be a leader.
The major drawback, though, is that because we’re so different, entrepreneurship can be a very lonely road—especially if you don’t live in a major city with a thriving startup scene, or come from a highly supportive family.
While the idea of an entrepreneur going at it alone might seem romantic to some, the truth is you won’t get very far without having a few friends to help you on your journey.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned from interviewing more than 100 successful entrepreneurs, it’s that it’s impossible to do it all by yourself. What we’ve consistently found is that the best entrepreneurs in the world are the ones that have surrounded themselves with equally, if not more, successful entrepreneurs.
While it’s admirable to want to take on the world all by yourself, here are three very big reasons why you need to start expanding your network and how to start doing it.
You are who you associate yourself with
Stop me if you’re heard this one before but, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Spoken by the late motivational speaker Jim Rohn, this quote has been echoed over and over again by the likes of Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, and many others.
You are not an isolated island in a calm blue ocean. If anything, you’re a finicky house plant that needs very specific conditions in order to grow. So in order to grow both as a person and as an entrepreneur, you’re going to need to take a very serious look at the environment around you and ask yourself whether or not you’re in the right place.
Studies have repeatedly shown that your peer group greatly influences who you are as an entrepreneur. In fact it could be argued that there is a correlation between your network and the level of success that you can achieve.
Knowing all this, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that the most successful and influential people in the world tend to be friends.
Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Marie Forleo, Daymond John and Richard Branson all together for Shopify’s 2015 Build a Business Competition. Just how much would you give to spend even one hour as a part of this group?
It’s a patten you’ll see over and over again throughout history, and not just with entrepreneurs. It’s no coincidence that great artists like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and other voices of their generation could be found in the home of Gertrude Stein every Saturday night in Paris in the 1920s. Or that famous industrialists and pioneers of the 21st century like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone would, among other “Vagabonds,” all go on camping trips with one another every year.
Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, US President Warren Harding and Harvey Firestone camping together in 1921.
At this point, would you even be surprised if I told you that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, literally the most influential people in all of Western thought and philosophy were all contemporaries of one another?
Now honestly tell me, do you think each and every one of these people would have changed the world in the way they did if they didn’t keep company with these other like-minded agents of change? It is astounding to look back at history and see how the most influential people in the world naturally came together to form partnerships and even friendships with one another. It’s even more fun to think about the different ways they directly or indirectly influenced each other.
Birds of a feather flock together, after all.
History teaches us that in order to be successful at anything, you need to be surrounding yourself with like-minded people who possess the same kind of vision as you. You need to create the sort of environment that allows you to grow and fully realize your own potential, and all of that starts with surrounding yourself with the right people.
Never be the smartest
This might be a hard fact to swallow for some, but the truth is that innate talent doesn’t always guarantee success. Too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of never asking for help, never bothering to take the time to develop relationships, because they’re either too proud or just arrogant enough to believe they know everything.
The astounding thing is that the most successful entrepreneurs in the world will openly admit to having a group of people that they can rely upon to advise and support them in both their professional and personal lives. Even solo founders will happily tell you that they have a least a few people they’ll turn to whenever they need it.
After your own time and energy, your most precious resource as an entrepreneur is your network. Denying yourself that resource isn’t just foolhardy, it’s a recipe for failure.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
The reason the most successful people in the world tend to be friends is because they know that it’s never a good idea to be the smartest person in the room. Those who want their egos stroked surround themselves with yes-men; those who want to change the world surround themselves with people who can keep challenging them to move forward.
The key to surrounding yourself with the right people is to find people who are going to bring out the best in you. This means putting yourself under the microscope and being honest about your flaws and the areas you need help in.
After all, you’re human. It is impossible for one person to know everything. That’s why having a network is so important. You can rely on the people around you to provide the expertise that you currently lack. One of the best things about community is the sheer diversity of opinion and knowledge that you’ll inevitably experience from being part of any entrepreneur community.
“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” – Malcolm Forbes.
More than just offering knowledge, having a strong network of like-minded people means that they’re going to understand what it is you’re going through. Again, most people just don’t understand the entrepreneurial mindset. It can be hard to get excited about your first sale if you tell people about it and they just scoff. You can see why so many entrepreneurs tend to lose motivation quickly if no one else is as excited as they are.
Humans are naturally social creatures and, whether you like to admit it or not, we all have very fragile egos. Just having someone to share the highs and lows with you, and understand where it is you’re coming from does amazing things for your motivation and drive to succeed as an entrepreneur.
So what kinds of people do you want in your network? Take a look at those around, and see if you can pinpoint these three essential people: the Mentor, the Peer, and the Protégé.
The mentor is someone who is more experienced and can help guide you and teach you what you need to know. The peer is someone who you can freely exchange ideas with and can support you as your equal and your competition. The protégé is someone who you can share your own knowledge with; it’s your chance to give back by helping someone else rise to the top.
“When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self.” – Confucius
No matter how large or small your network may be, the combination of these three people will ensure that you’re always learning and always moving forward.
Leveraging the community
Often you’ll see entrepreneurs start networking without any idea of what it is they want to achieve. As a result, they’ll make some contacts and some connections, but ultimately they won’t be of much use. A community of entrepreneurs is a fantastic resource, but unless you start thinking strategically, all you’re going to end up with is a list of contacts you’ll never talk to and many wasted opportunities.
One of the biggest reasons you want to integrate yourself into a community is for the opportunity to connect with influencers and raise your own profile. It’s not always about what you know but who you know.
Having someone willing to speak for you and refer you to influencers will do more for you and your career than any amount of work you do. Let’s be honest here, the chances of an influencer accidentally stumbling upon, and loving, your work are slim to none.
Just like that age old philosophical question of whether or not a falling tree makes a sound if no one is there to hear it, no matter how great your work is, it doesn’t mean much if no one is there to see it. The value of a community is that you’re able to get yourself and what you do in front of the people who matter.
Studies have shown that we are much more likely to trust a referral by a friend over anything else.
Kind of like how back in middle school you’d get your friend to introduce you to the new girl in class who you had a crush on.
You can never go wrong with a classic love note, but I’m not sure influencers would appreciate this tactic very much.
By diving into a community, not only are you opening yourself up to the wealth of knowledge that’s available, but you’re also drastically increasing your chances for success. You’ll never know who you’ll meet when you’re networking. Who knows, you might even meet a future business partner or someone to collaborate with. You might even be lucky enough to join or form a mastermind group with some of the people you meet.
Where to go when you’re looking for friends
Now that you know how important it is to join a community and to surround yourself with the best of the best, let’s get to talking about where it is you can go to find such a community.
One thing to remember first: Make sure you have the right mindset when you start networking.
I have seen many would-be entrepreneurs burn bridges by jumping into a community and start trying to leverage it without giving anything back. Remember that it’s all about collaboration and not competition—there can’t even be a community in the first place without everyone doing their part to help each other out. If you’re just going to jump in and start asking for favors and introductions, what you’ll find is that you might have some initial success, but eventually people will get tired of constantly giving without getting anything in return.
Always provide value first, then ask. In order to successfully leverage the power of community as an entrepreneur you need to be ready to invest the necessary time and effort.
There are a variety of ways you can reach out to an entrepreneurship community. One way is to see if you can connect with the local startup scene, and the best way to do that is to see if there are any entrepreneur-related events going on in your area with Meetup.
But this can be tricky if you don’t happen to live in an area with a particularly thriving startup culture. It can also be difficult to find the time to go to a group in-person every single week or month. Unless you’re going consistently and making your presence routinely known, it can be difficult to form the types of connections and relationships you need to properly leverage the power of community.
The next best thing would be to join online communities built just for entrepreneurs. Today there are more ways than one to connect with other entrepreneurs, so be sure to leverage social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. You might even be able to find dedicated groups just for entrepreneurs or your specific niche. Now the tricky thing with online communities has to do with the barrier of entry.
Too low and you might just join a community where you get lost in the crowd, unable to gain any valuable interactions with anyone. In my experience, I’ve found the worst communities to be the ones that just have people trying to constantly sell or promote their products without any real interaction going on.
The entire point of a community is that you’re able to learn from one another, but sometimes these groups can be poorly moderated, and what you’ll get are endless pitches and no chance to distinguish yourself. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll find communities with very high barriers of entry, with some private entrepreneur communities costing up to $200 a month just to be a part of them! Even then, you’re never guaranteed that you’ll be able to properly fit into such a community.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be if you have the right people by your side.
We all love the idea of a single individual rising to the top by themselves. Of the conquering hero that has, with their own two hands, raised up their community and the people around them. But once you take off the rose-tinted glasses and take a closer look you’ll always find it’s the other way around. You’ll find that it’ll always be the community and the people around them that helped push the hero to the very top.
You don’t have to look very far to see the vast difference between what one person can achieve by themselves compared to what they can do when supported by a community of people all believing in their success.
As an entrepreneur, especially if you’re someone that’s just starting out, I really cannot stress how important it is that you find like-minded people who can help push you towards success. It might feel unnatural at first to learn on others, but you will be floored by how much you can achieve just by having a group of people who just want to see you succeed as well.
So don’t dedicate yourself to failure by thinking you can do it all alone. Find some friends who you can trust, who are loyal, who are even smarter than you and watch how together you can achieve impossible things by helping one another.