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How to Develop Your Support Network as a Business Owner

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Few endeavors are as rewarding, or as challenging, as owning your own business. One way to make that journey easier is by turning to others for counsel — especially a network of fellow business owners who can help provide the knowledge that leads to success.

But building that support network can be daunting, especially for those just starting their business. To get some insight, we talked to Dustin Puryear, who founded Puryear IT in 2002, which builds custom IT solutions for clients in the Baton Rouge area and beyond.

Look Outside, Not Inside

Puryear says he struggled with creating a support network during his early years in business, and it’s only within the past seven or eight years that he has felt like he’s finally gotten it right. One approach he says has worked for him is to look outside the organization and not within. People within the company are a valuable knowledge asset, but they’re not necessarily the right ones to turn to for insight on how owning a business affects you personally and professionally, he says.

“What I'm talking about is having somebody that understands what it really means to have cash-flow problems in your business. Also, what it means to have issues in your personal life, because particularly when you're starting a company, you're spending double the hours that most people work inside of the business, and so some of your personal connections suffer. And it becomes difficult to talk to people if they don't run a company,” Puryear says.

Start simple in building your network: Reach out to the local chamber of commerce, ask for veteran entrepreneurs in the community willing to talk, and seek out and join professional associations in your industry.

At first these meetings may tend to focus on having business referred your way, which is really more of a sales and marketing function, Puryear says. But look for ways to deepen the relationship beyond that, especially with people you find you can relate to. Over time your professional and personal relationships will start to blur as your support network grows and becomes familiar.

Share Experiences, Not Advice

One group that Puryear says has been particularly beneficial to him is Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a peer-to-peer network that extends globally and focuses locally, with regular forums for business owners to attend and share. These forums have strict agendas with no time wasting, and attendees are encouraged to share about not just their company but their personal life, family, ongoing challenges, etc.

Everything at EO is kept strictly confidential. Another important aspect is that members don’t give advice — they share their own experiences as examples of what they did in a particular situation.

“You cannot give advice to somebody, but you can experience share. In other words, if you've been through that situation, you can relate what happened, how you resolved it or how you weren't able to resolve it. And that's a very strong communication style for business owners,” Puryear says.

The risks of giving direct advice to another entrepreneur are twofold: the advice is ignored, or they take the advice and it fails, resulting in blame or ill feelings.

Continuously Build New Relationships

It’s important to remember that, like any other aspect of life, people will come and go in your support network. Someone will retire, or relocate somewhere else, or sell their equity and move on to other challenges. The secret to dealing with that is to accept the reality and be receptive to seeking other relationships.

Connect with people at business or social events, offer to share lunch or coffee, and see what grows. Follow each other on social media to see if there’s an alignment of values. And always be ready to take things to another level. Puryear gives the example of a business person who he knew vaguely and bumped into, then found himself invited to their house for a Fourth of July pool party. He went and had a blast, and now they’ve grown much closer.

Just remember that building a support network takes time and effort, whether you’re actively seeking new relationships or nurturing the ones you already have. “Now on a daily basis, there is a list of four or five people I can call, and I can vent or work through issues. They'll pick up my phone call the second I call them. And I'll do the same for them. So that to me is a very powerful type of relationship,” Puryear says.
 

Stephen Loy