The biggest mistake I’ve EVER made

Alone in a Crowd

Being rather introspective I can list many things I would have rather done differently. But, when I do that there was one recurring theme: Trying to do things alone.

About five years ago I decided to leave a position I’d been in for a handful of years. I wanted to pursue something else, even though I didn’t have my next job lined up. One of my biggest mistakes was that I didn’t have a professional network to help me through the job transition. No memberships in professional associations or monthly chamber meetings to go to. No local online community network. Heck, I didn’t even have a LinkedIn account at that point. I thought I could just go it alone in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Smart, huh?

I spent quite a bit of energy doing informational interviews, building a LinkedIn network, and finding helpful strategic partners. I learned the right way to find a job (albeit the hard way). I also learned being helpful to others will build a stronger, more authentic network that you can more easily rely on.

Entrepreneurship requires the right network to be successful. Businesses have to be competitive in so many areas including sales, talent acquisition, and operations. If you’re launching a new business or even a new product for an existing line, your network can help you with brainstorming or validation of your idea.

Here’s why your network is important:

  • The more sets of eyes you have looking at a problem or issue, the easier it becomes to gain perspective and identify opportunities, challenges, and avoid making a costly mistakes!
  • When you need help, the right people can step up to help you much quicker.
  • When your network needs help, you’re more likely to be in the right place to help them (making a difference feels good).
  • Sometimes it is better to delegate/pair/hire to your weaknesses. Entrepreneurs may need to source out some responsibilities if they’re not particularly good at them (accounting, facilities management, payroll, etc.) so knowing where to turn makes things much easier.

Here are some ways to grow the quality of your network, not the quantity:

  • Be helpful. Even if there is no benefit to you today or tomorrow, being helpful to your network makes you valuable and people like to help those who help them. Plus the giving nature of the relationship makes it tighter.
  • Try new things. I was invited to speak at a fashion event a few months back and I was a bit hesitant at first. Not knowing much about the industry I wasn’t sure how I could help. But, after discussing what the need was I realized how much I had to offer the organization! Be open minded and your network can bring in new opportunities you might not have considered.
  • Manage your LinkedIn groups for where you need to be. You might find some good content or even some great subject experts. Explore for local groups of like-purposed activities. You may learn that there are like minded individuals closer than you think

Looking back I am very glad I branched out and built a larger network. I have outlets for the talent that I can share, discovered new groups and places I can learn from, and have so many talented individuals that I can lean on. A robust network has helped me in my career, entrepreneurship, and community involvement. Now, I can’t imagine going back to when I had so few connections.

How has your network most influenced you? Have any tips or suggestions we may have missed? Leave your comments below. You can also reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Guest bloggers for the TDS Business Blog.

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