Gather Your VIPs: The Importance of Building a Network

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At the start of second grade I moved to a new school. On the first day of school I entered my classroom scared shitless. I knew nobody. I saw a sea of kids and my new teacher. I felt frozen and wanted to puke all over my desk.

I had to make friends on my own. As an anxious seven-year old, that was a frightening task. I had to figure out: who were the other kids I could play with? Who were the other friends that would want to cut up construction paper and make collages? Who else owned a perfect LP of Michael Jackson’s Thriller?

Thank goodness Jen P. was in Mrs. Passante’s second-grade classroom. With a mixture of intuitiveness, kinship, and common interests, we quickly became close friends. We built a relationship in the classroom, and we began playing together on weekends.

As the school years went on, Jen and I invited more select friends into our group. We listened to Def Leppard in our bedrooms. The girls blushingly talked about our periods and bras. While the boys wrote poetry that they called song lyrics. But it was poetry, and we bonded over that sensitivity and creativity.

Networking All Grown Up
I’ve been reminiscing about those early years of making friends lately. It reminds me of how I’ve been building a network around my solopreneur business. When I started, it was hard for me to pinpoint who my support group would be. I felt like that timid seven-year-old whose lunch consisted of a mortadella and provolone sandwich, while everyone had ham and swiss (if you were raised Italian, I know you’ve had mortadella).

When I started I didn’t feel like I was networking correctly. But I knew I couldn’t run my business in stagnant waters. I needed to find my tribe of like-minded individuals who were working their patooties off to run thriving businesses. I needed to surround myself with people who wanted me to succeed, and who I wanted to see thrive—people like me, striving to achieve self-made success on our own terms.

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Do The Networking Shuffle
I started to attend networking events that either brought together other creatives or small business owners. I was nervous meeting new people at first. However, after a while these encounters with new people helped me to step outside my comfort zone and enabled me to grow as a business woman, and as a person. Win-win.

As I met more people I could tell who I wanted to continue the conversation with, and who I didn’t need to stand by my side.

Trim the Fat
So who was going to be in my support group? Who was going to be in my inner circle of VIPs that cheered me along the way, and that I could encourage, too?

It was important for me to build a solid group around me. That meant I did not pursue relationships with anyone that didn’t feel right. I immediately crossed complainers off the list. Yes, being a creative freelancer is hard. No, I don’t want to spend an hour over coffee bad mouthing clients. Those types of conversations don’t come from a place of support and positivity. Since I’ve worked hard to cultivate relationships with clients that respect and trust what I do for them as their designer and brand maven, I actually love my clients.

I had to let go of those that dragged me down. And cling to the ones that lifted me up.

Let’s Hike The Mountain Together
When I go on a challenging hike, I only go with people that can hike the mountain with me. That means hiking with people at a similar level of fitness, who will push me when I need a boost. The same goes for the support system around my business. Anyone that is thriving at their business, I stay in touch with. Anyone that really inspires me—and kinda scares me by how awesome they are—I want them by my side.

The point of my support group is to find those people who will support me along the way. Not at the beginning, not at the middle, but all the time.

The People I Spend Time With: It’s Not The Size That Counts
A large amount of how successful you will be in life comes down to the people that surround you. Jim Rohn said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Back in high school, we had a small group of like-minded creative nerds. We didn’t need much: some great music, a car to drive around town, and lots of stupid jokes. We supported our creative efforts, which was tough: Back in the early 90s art geeks and drama club was second class to football and cheerleading.

But the few in my group truly encouraged each other in our efforts. 20 years down the road we have three successful entrepreneurs, a self-published author, and an editor for a national poetry magazine.

Now, the five people I spend the most time with are my good friend and business collaborator, a wildly successful content marketer, my artist husband, a talented creative director who is also an aspiring potter, and fellow yogis at my local yoga studio. And although not a person, I count my sketchbook as a friend because it fulfills my creativity and my soul.

It’s not the size of the community, it’s sticking with those whose mission aligns with mine.

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Build Your Network
Building this network has taught me to feel like a leader, and an expert, so that I can step into that scary place of meeting new friends. At times it still  feels like I’m stepping into my second-grade classroom. But I survived second grade. And I’m surviving building this business..

How can you build your solid network of VIP’s? If you are a solo business professional, who wants to see you thrive? Can you see them hiking the tough parts of the mountain with you?  Are they engaging you in conversation that feels authentic? Do they give you space to talk? Do you get fired up when they talk?

I’d love to get your thoughts. Please email me or leave a comment below!

Jellyfish image used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Franzi

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Client Kudos

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Maria. The results were beautiful and consistent, AND right in line with my desired outcomes. As someone who enjoys design work and design conversations, I appreciated Maria’s openness and finesse as I wanted to engage in a co-creative process. I also appreciated the boundaries she set for where my processing could get in my own way.

David T., Coaching & Consulting