Mention the word “networking” to an entrepreneur and you’ll often get one of two reactions: enthusiasm or cringing. The importance of having — and making — connections cannot be understated, but there’s more that goes into starting and growing a business. And when networking isn’t part of the equation, you’re forced to learn — about yourself, about others and about the process of learning.
Personally, I cringe when someone mentions networking, so I was pleased to discover that there’s more to entrepreneurship than who you know. When I came to the United States from France to start my business CrownTV, a digital signage software company, I did not have the luxury of family or connections. However, I’m grateful for this because it taught me how to be self-reliant. The lessons I learned from this are useful not just in business, but also in everyday life.
Some people are natural networkers or have a strong desire to become one. Others prefer to go it alone. What’s important isn’t which one of these you are, it’s knowing which one. Try attending networking events and seeing how it feels. Do you feel out of place, or do you feel eager to meet people and make connections?
If you’re a networker, then network away. If not, decide what you should focus on instead.
Networking alone will not make you successful, and it’s not mandatory. Instead, hard work, dedication and persistence will. Connections will naturally follow because people value accountability and diligence in others.
Learn About Others
Don’t rely on others to move your business forward. In college, I was working toward a degree in finance and wanted my friend to sign up for the same classes so we could study together. In actuality, he wasn’t sure what he wanted and he didn’t sign up for the courses. So I signed up on my own and never looked back. Had I waited, I may have missed the window to secure my spot.
However, it’s also important to learn who you can trust and rely on for moral support. Having a support system is crucial, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed for needing one. Family is a safe place to start, especially if any of them have experience running a business. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions and seek their help when you need it.
I’d also recommend finding one person — perhaps a potential co-founder — who can bolster you mentally along the way, because the road isn’t easy. I think startups with two founders are more successful for this reason. Trust yourself first, but also surround yourself with others you know you can trust.
Know What You Don’t Know (Then Learn It)
Never be afraid to learn and ask questions. Although admitting you have a lot to learn and asking questions may be seen as signs of weakness in the U.S., in reality, even the most successful entrepreneurs are always learning and acquiring new skills. We constantly see them starting new ventures, investing in startups and running nonprofits. They see a “next level” in everything they do and have the will to reach it.
Make time to learn almost every day. I’ve always attended night classes, and still do to this day. I’ve taken classes on everything from finance to real estate, preferably taught by other entrepreneurs who’ve been in my shoes. It’s made me realize how much I still have to learn about running a business. You can’t learn it all, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pointless endeavor.
Accept that you and your business are a constant work in progress, and that life itself is a learning process. Know what you don’t know, then go learn it.
With learning also comes patience. Don’t expect things to happen overnight. We always think things will happen faster than they’re going to, and it sets us up for disappointment. It took time for me to fully understand that.
When I started CrownTV, we thought each person we called would immediately want to schedule a meeting to see our product. We knew they were in need of a more modern solution and were using archaic systems, and we were confident we could fill that need. However, we quickly found out that how we pitched our solution wasn’t appealing to prospects, and we weren’t presenting the right points. We had to redefine our pitch, emails and overall strategy. There was a steep learning curve until prospects actually returned our calls and emails and were interested in learning more. Being patient and allowing ourselves to make mistakes was crucial in getting to that point.
At the beginning, you think your product will sell as soon as you have a website and prospects, but if that were true there would be no failed businesses. It’s okay to be eager, but try to channel that hunger into learning and patience, which are virtues in both entrepreneurship and life.