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Have a Small Business? It Takes a Village. Here’s How to Build One.

Jan 30 2017

by Ashley Schoenith

It Takes A Village

The old saying “it takes a village” is advice I’ve heard time and time again as the mom of three young children. As the owner of a small business, I quickly learned that adapting this advice from my personal life to my business was a game changer.

It’s good advice for so many reasons. It’s all about collaboration, everyone getting involved for a greater good. Finding a support network, being a supporter. As we head into Summit, here are a few ways you can build your own village as a support system for your business.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Let’s see how many little sayings I can pack into one post … While you’re working to build your support system it’s great to surround yourself with like-minded people. Networking events, entrepreneur groups and conferences (like the Summit and the whole Southern C network) are great places to keep your eyes peeled for people you admire or instantly connect with through your similar goals or aspirations.

And remember, if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for don’t be afraid to create a little networking group of your very own. People who are passionate about what they’re doing love to be surrounded by others who share the same vision and most times will be honored to be included.

Find Your Holes

One of the most important parts of the process in building your village is to outline what that actually looks like. Whether you’re a one-man band or you have a small team of paid employees working for you, having a visual game plan can truly help you to see where the holes are in your network.

Map out your support system much like you would an org chart for a large organization. For me, I have a little “advisory board” of mentors that are each specialized in a variety of areas that are usually areas of opportunity for me. I write in the topics like a “job title” such as Leadership or Manufacturing and assign names to each so I know just who to call when I need a little advice.

Start small by keeping this to just a handful of major topics and mentors that align with your business goals for the year.

Limit the Ask

Keep in mind, unlike a large corporation these “mentors” and business friends of yours are not actual paid employees. Be respectful and keep your ask to a minimum. Know that successful folks who have experience in an area shutter when they get an email asking to “pick their brain.”

It’s easy to get on a roll asking questions when you’re eager to learn from an expert, especially one who seems willing to help, but remember it has taken them many, many years and a lot of money of trial and error to be able to give you the advice they are sharing.

The whole “village” analogy works because it’s suppose to be a win/win where we help each other for the greater good of the community. Keep your coffee chat to an hour, follow up with a handwritten thank you or small gesture of thanks, return the favor when you can and be generous in your praise.

Go Deep…and Go Wide

I’m sure we can all list a handful of amazing, successful people that we’d love to have in our support networks and often these can honestly be the easy ones to put into place because within your reach there are only a few people who actually have the expertise to fill a niche role of support for you. A Fortune 500 CMO who helps you navigate your leadership skills, the owner of a textiles company who has been importing and exporting for 35 years who is kind enough to make you privy of her network.  This is going deep.

Going wide is equally important. Going wide is that spiderweb of folks that make up the rest of the village. You never know when you will need to call on one of them, and you never know when they’ll call on you. These might be bloggers or influencers that are happy to jump on board for an Instagram collaboration, or fellow entrepreners that can give advice on navigating a better shipping solution or payment processor.

To go both deep and wide requires you to keep your relationships on-going and two-sided. I try to schedule at least one coffee meeting a week with a different person from my village for no specific reason at all – just a “let’s grab coffee” with no strings attached and no agenda.  I seek out new influencers online and engage with them for months before I ever actually make a specific ask of them. When it’s time to make a major ask, 99% of the time I can reach within my village instead of making a cold call and it makes all the difference in the outcome.

Put Back In What You Got Out

While you’re busy building your village and focusing on your own goals be mindful of the community. Seek out ways to help others within your network, whether they make a specific ask or not. Find ways to share your expertise and lift others up who may be a step behind where you are today. By digging in to discover your greatest areas of strength and expertise, you’ll find a way to support your passion in the most rewarding way.

It is also important to remember your family and personal network of friends in this little org chart experiment. They are often the greatest supporters and unsung heroes of your village. Without their support, your time and dedication to your business wouldn’t be possible in many cases.

 

While time and resources are always limited in the world of entrepreneurship, building and tapping into your village is a win/win for everyone. Love to know other tips you apply to your own network.

 

 

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Ashley Schoenith View More Blog Posts from this Author

Ashley Schoenith is the founder + lifestyle designer at heirloomed (formerly IceMilk Aprons). A collection of "goods inspired by the past, for generations to enjoy," with a mission of keeping the heirloom around for another generation.

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