To successfully start a venture, there is no way you can do it alone. Not even with just a partner or two. To build a strong company, you will need to build a correspondingly strong network of people around you.
You should begin this process early. If you haven’t started in earnest yet, do it today. The people you want to network with will largely be driven by the type of business you are starting. Of course you will want to network with other entrepreneurs, but you will also want to network with folks that can lend some direct insight into your business and potential customers.
In truth, you want to network with as many people as possible because you never know where one good contact will lead down the road. But you should prioritize who you network with, because time is precious and you will have a lot on your plate.
There are four optimal types of people that you must network with at some level. Make sure all of these bases are covered.
1) People that have direct insight into your business. This could be someone that started, or has worked at, a company in a similar market. For example, if I wanted to start selling cars online, it would be great to talk to a car dealership owner or someone that started another ecommerce site. These people are very valuable because for sure they know something you don’t about your business.
2) Potential customers. Perhaps the best people to network with are prospective customers. You will want to understand their needs and have them define your products for you.
3) Potential funding sources. You should network within circles of high net worth individuals, VCs, angels, and business partners. Even if you are bootstrapping you will want to be in a position to take the company to the next level, and having strong relationships with people that could invest money in your venture is very important.
4) People that augment your skill set. As the saying goes, you should focus on your strengths and hire to your weaknesses. In the case of a startup entrepreneur, you should absolutely network with people that augment your strengths. Let’s say you are bad at bookkeeping, creative design, SEO, or any other major task of running your business. You better network with someone that is awesome at it, otherwise you are in trouble.
The best thing about networking with a lot of smart people over time is that if you do it right, eventually you will build up quite a fan base. Most people love to be cheerleaders when it comes to helping an entrepreneurial venture. Personally, I love to help others reach their goals, and am glad to help out when asked. By building a large consortium of people that want you to succeed, there are infinite ways that group of people can directly and indirectly help you through advice, guidance, customer referrals, bartering services, discounted services, investment, and dozens of other ways.
Nothing is more important when starting a business than building a strong network.