How to Network as an Entrepreneur

A group of two males and two female coworkers sit at a round table under a bright light and discuss notes in an office.

Launching a business can be an exhilarating, all-consuming endeavor.

All too often it can be a lonely one as well: Founders are two times more likely to suffer depression and face a high risk of burnout.

The good news? You don't have to do it alone.

Effective networking can help you not only build a support system, but also improve your business.

Consider these tips for nurturing your existing network while also building a whole new roster of contacts ready to cheer you on and help you succeed.

Explore an Entrepreneur or Founders’ Group

Entrepreneur groups provide a chance to plug into a network of like-minded peers and share experiences, work out problems, and learn from others who have been where you are—and come out the other side. Such groups are often organized around the business stage to ensure participants are discussing similar issues. Early-stage entrepreneurs, for example, may be dealing with how to secure financing while later-stage business owners may be more concerned with management issues, hiring, or even pursuing an exit.

To find an appropriate entrepreneur group, connect with your city or county economic development office. Contact your Small Business Development Council representative. Look for meetups and explore national options such as Vistage groups and YEC Next. Nothing out there? Consider starting a group on your own. This puts a bit more work on your already-full plate, but cultivating a network of entrepreneurs you can lean on is often worth the effort.

Explore Coworking

Running your business from home is certainly cost-effective. It can also be isolating. Coworking not only provides community but potentially also access to additional resources that may help your business succeed. Depending on where you live, a coworking membership may cost from $100 to several hundred dollars per month. Before you commit, evaluate each space to see if it fits with the nature of your work and the type of people you’d like to be around.

Many coworking spaces are created around industries—specializing in tech or creative fields, for example—and may include remote workers, entrepreneurs, and freelancers in a particular sector. Others cater specifically to entrepreneurs and are set up to accommodate the growth of your business with the option of moving from a desk into small offices.

You can usually get a punch card or do a drop-in day to determine whether you like the vibe of the space before you begin a monthly membership. Take advantage of this opportunity to “road test” your prospective space.

Finally, be aware that while, yes, coworking spaces offer community and a built-in network, you’ll also need to be able to establish boundaries between work time and socializing with all of the interesting people you’re sure to meet.

Tap Into Your Industry

It’s easy to be so head’s down in your business that you neglect to make industry connections. Doing so, however, can pay off in multiple ways. Research industry associations related to your field—whether that’s marketing, food service, technology, or manufacturing. Attend industry-related events and keep your eye out for conferences that allow you to deepen your connections and learn about trends and best practices.

Also, if you work in one industry, but serve another, don’t limit your engagement. For example, if your company makes software that serves manufacturers, you may want to get involved in both tech associations and groups related to manufacturing.

Leverage Social Media for Advice and Support

Social media can certainly be a great avenue to endless procrastination. It can also provide a powerful platform from which you can easily connect with others in your field, ask questions, and find support. Look for groups on LinkedIn and Facebook related to your field or area of work. LinkedIn, for example, hosts free groups for small business owners, freelance creatives, and entrepreneurs in which members regularly post questions and offer advice. For active participants, these groups often turn into a referral network as well.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Entrepreneurship is an adventure to be shared, not a burden to be carried alone. Developing a solid network of other business owners and industry peers can help ensure you have the proper support when the going gets tough and the resources to take your company to the next level. When you get to the top of the mountain, just don’t forget to pay it forward.


Fifth Third Partners Support Entrepreneurs

We're proud to work with the following organizations that provide resources and support for entrepreneurs around the country.

Cincinnati
Cincinnati Access Fund, a partnership between Fifth Third Bank, Cincinnati LISC, First Financial Bank and the City of Cincinnati
Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber Minority Business Accelerator
MORTAR, a resource hub for urban entrepreneurs in Cincinnati
Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce Executive Accelerator Program

Detroit
Detroit Entrepreneurs of Color Fund
Access to Capital

Chicago
Accion
Chicago Entrepreneurs of Color Fund
Access to Capital

North Carolina
Mountain BizWorks (Ashville)
Carolina Small Business Development Fund (Raleigh)

Indianapolis
Bankable, small business loans and access to business development tools

Multiple markets
Community Reinvestment Fund, provider of loan capital and technical assistance.

 

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever.