support system

By Rieva Lesonsky

On any given day, chances are I’m meeting up with a friend, colleague or mentor for coffee, breakfast or lunch—and to share ideas and encouragement. I rely on my “entrepreneurial support system” to get energized and inspired to make my business better.

Whether you’re a natural extrovert or on the shy side, every small business owner needs a support system to keep going. Do you have a strong support system? It can make all the difference in whether you fail or succeed — and, on a less dramatic note, in giving you the energy and inspiration to get through each business day. Here are the kinds of people you need in your support system.

  1. Your team of professionals. Your accountant, attorney and insurance agent may not be the people you turn to every day, but it’s vital to have experts you can rely on helping you make key business decisions.
  2. Businesspeople in your industry. Sure, some of them are your competitors, but you can still learn from each other and even work together to capture your clients and customers. Participating in industry events, conferences and workshops, and talking to other entrepreneurs to know where you’re coming from, is invaluable in keeping you up to speed on industry trends and ways to overcome business challenges.
  3. Businesspeople in your area. Every business faces local issues, whether it’s with the zoning board, changes in the local markets demographics or ups and downs in the local economy. By talking to other businesspeople in your area, either one-on-one or in local networking organizations, you can get ideas for how to get over these hurdles.
  4. Businesspeople in other industries. I get some of my best ideas from connections who are in completely different industries. Brainstorming with someone with a new perspective on your business can spark ideas you would never come up with on your own.
  5. Official advisers. In addition to the professionals who help your business, why not create a board of advisors? Ask professionals, retired business owners or others who may have valuable advice to offer to serve on your advisory board. Meet with them periodically to discuss problems your business is facing or plans you have in mind and get their opinions on how best to proceed.
  6. Friends and family. Friends and family aren’t always your best source of business advice–whether because they don’t know anything about business or because they think all your ideas are fantastic. But they’re an important source of emotional support that every entrepreneur needs. Let them know they don’t have to give you business advice — just a listening ear and shoulder to cry on can be enough. And remember to set aside time to spend with them to recharge your energies.
  7. Mentors. Some entrepreneurs are lucky enough to have a business mentor — someone who’s been with them from the get-go and always offers wise advice. But if you don’t have one, it’s easy to get one. I love the mentors at SCORE and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). (Disclosure: Both organizations are clients of my company, but I’d recommend them even if they weren’t.) They provide free advice from business experts and experienced entrepreneurs.