If you’re like many small business owners, you work in a bubble. You figure out everything yourself and rarely, if ever, connect to your industry peers. Bad idea.
My husband has a startup, and this was his story until recently. We moved to San Diego last year, and hadn’t heard about much of a startup community, so he went it alone. Then he found a few groups that support startups, and he saw what he had been missing. Here’s why you should pop the bubble you’re living in.
1. You Need Peer Support. Heck, even hanging out with your competitors can give you great ideas. But as long as you live in your own echo chamber, how can you really know how far along you are (or aren’t)? My husband said that while he feels he has eons to go in his business, the other startup founders (all twentysomethings) admired him for having come so far in a year.
He said it’s a bit like doing pushups at home all day, every day, then going to a meeting to teach you to improve your pushups. You might think you need work, but when you come in all muscular, everyone looks up to you. Sharing ideas with other people in similar situations is invaluable, and will take your business even further.
2. You Need “I Know a Guy.” We all know it’s who you know that matters. If you’re working in a bubble, you probably don’t know many people at all. But what happens when you need a good, affordable lawyer? Or a venture capitalist? You essentially have to open the phone book (do they still make those?) and throw a dart at it to find one. But if you’re networking, you’ll eventually come across someone who “knows a guy.” And these are often the best referrals.
My husband said that typically, VCs hide when they’re in a room full of startups, because they’ll get pitched to death, but at the meeting he recently attended, a VC introduced himself and asked about his business, then gave him his card. That wouldn’t have happened with a cold email introduction. Networking is all about helping others, and while you definitely should contribute to connecting people, you will also find yourself on the receiving end.
3. Sometimes Your Ideas Suck. And you need to hear that. As long as your ideas are bouncing around in your head, you really don’t know if they’re any good. But you can gauge people’s reactions when you explain them. Scrunched forehead = back to the drawing board.
Leaping forward in excitement = you’re on the right track. (And getting feedback from your spouse or cat does not count.)
4. You Might Actually Learn Something. Look, I know how smart you are. Wicked smart. But honestly, you could still learn a thing or two, and likely from a fellow business owner. Think of it like this: We all make mistakes. If someone else can tell you about the mistakes they’ve made, you can keep from making the same ones. Make your own mistakes!
So wherever you are in your business, I encourage you to attend networking events, small business workshops, startup accelerators, Chamber of Commerce meetings–anything to get out of your head and among fellow commiserators.