From Isolation to Collaboration: Finding Your Support Network as an Entrepreneur

Flashback to 2014, a very cold winter in NYC. I’m excited to have just launched my own business, and am working out of my apartment. After almost a decade in traditional settings, it’s blissfully calm and quiet as I take client calls, craft strategy, and write emails. Actually, it’s too quiet, which means that my inner critic is working overtime as I try to make decisions. Is anyone going to read this blog post? Will anyone respond to this email blast? Am I making the right move here? Is anyone going to hire me?

When I worked in corporate settings, one of the things I loved was the perpetual opportunity to brainstorm and bounce ideas off colleagues. When someone is sitting right next to you, it’s really easy to ask them to read an email for tone or grammar, or to chat informally about an idea or strategy. Many of my colleagues became my friends, and it was great to have both personal and professional support through them.

So, back to me in my apartment, wondering if anyone will hire me. While that thought may seem ludicrous now, during that cold winter, the isolation was real. Even though I would sometimes switch it up by going to coffee shops or meeting friends for co-working days, I was mainly at home, and that wasn’t going to work indefinitely.

There was no built-in support network; I realized I would have to build one myself.

Three years into my business, I can say that finding and creating my supportive network has been one of the most personally and professionally rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’ve met three incredible coaches who are the backbone of my support system. We refer clients to each other, we collaborate, and most importantly, we encourage and lean on each other with zero competition between us. And it’s not just people from my industry who form my support network. I have a friend who I meet with weekly, and though we work  in completely different fields, we still talk about our businesses, bounce ideas off each other, and use the time to catch up and check in. For the past two years, I’ve  also been connected to an incredible network of women from all different industries (and from around the world) through a Facebook group called Dreamers//Doers. It’s the ultimate supportive hub that complements my other relationships.

As you make the leap to entrepreneurship, it can feel challenging enough to check every box on your to-do list, much less go out and network. But for me, it was a key component of finding my way as an entrepreneur. It’s no exaggeration to say I couldn’t have done it without the support of the network I built.

Here are my tips for finding a network that can support you.

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1. Take advantage of the incredible resources on social media. The professional networks on social media are incredible. Once you find the right one, you’ll discover people who are engaged, who share opportunities and resources, and who are eager to support you. There are communities focused on lots of different industries, plus networks like Dreamer//Doers that bring together people in many different professions and industries from all over the world. For me, Dreamers//Doers feels kind of like that coworker who used to bounce ideas around with me. I know the network is there whenever I need it, and it’s always buzzing with great energy and opportunities to connect.

2. Find people who get you—and support them in return. I’m so grateful to have found people I can talk to candidly about everything relating to my business. Our relationship thrives on supporting each other, not on competing with each other, which means that we can talk openly about anything and everything. We’ll often have calls to chat about trouble areas where feel stuck, or problems that we can’t figure out how to solve. The dynamic really works: we all receive support while lending our support at the same time. Part of the reason I became a coach is because I love helping people, and my professional relationships are an extension of that. I’m lucky to have found others who feel the same way.

When you’re meeting people who may ultimately become part of your support network, don’t forget to consider how you might support them. Like any relationship, it’s a two-way street. The most rewarding relationships grow out of mutual appreciation, trust, and a willingness to listen. In a lot of cases, this will all unfold naturally, and you’ll know right away when it’s working.

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3. Make connecting part of your business plan. If you view building a supportive network as essential for your business, let your schedule reflect that. Like anything, building a network takes time and effort, so you can’t expect it to happen overnight. It doesn’t matter whether you primarily engage in person, over social media, or a combination of both: you have to make time in your schedule for it. You can still manage your time wisely—for example, if you’re most productive in the morning, reserve that time for your work and only network after a certain time of day. You don’t want networking to get in the way of your important projects and deadlines, but it is possible to integrate it into your schedule in a way that works for you.

Carving out time in your schedule to network makes it a reality for your business. Once you find people who can support you, make time time to check in with them regularly, even just for a ten-minute call. Chances are, it will be what you look forward to all week.