Becoming an entrepreneur changed my lifestyle in unexpected ways.
Besides a complete overhaul of my work life, my social life experienced a major reconstruction.
After stepping outside of the routines, schedules, and limits of the traditional work environment, I knew that it was possible.
Sure, it took some tough choices and hard work, but I crafted the life I wanted for myself and my family. And in the process, I ran out of patience for bullshit.
I ran out of patience for bullshit. You will too.
I’m continually amazed at the lengths to which people will go to fulfill external expectations.
The idea that you need the degree, the job, the spouse, the house and 2.5 kids to be a successful adult is responsible for serious existential strife.
I’ve seen people spend decades trying to smile through crushing debt, a troubled marriage, and unfulfilling work. They exhibit all the traditional markers of success, but they are not happy.
After working so hard to gain the freedom and gratification that comes from running your own business, the last thing you’ll want to hear is people around you saying, “You’re so lucky. I could never do that because of x, y, and z.” And the complaints that usually accompany this talk.
Your social circle will shrink because you won’t want to expend energy on anyone holding you back.
Entrepreneurs can become isolated. The hours are long, the work is intense, and the stress can build up if there is no one around.
Let’s face it, starting an online business is a lonely road. The good news is it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
You will find that surrounding yourself with an inspiring and supportive network of people will open doors you never imagined possible.
The entrepreneurs I talk to every week on Hack the Entrepreneur repeatedly tell me that they credit their success largely to their network of friends and fellow entrepreneurs.
Here are four actionable ways to expand your network of friends and supporters, even if you mostly work alone in your jogging pants.
Choosing the right business conference
For the first couple of years I worked online, although I had a partner, I spent most of my time working alone. I interacted with very few people outside of my family. It wasn’t easy.
I lived in a small town, and the number of entrepreneurs that I could talk to about my struggles, either in person or online, was zero.
When I saw an opportunity to attend a conference where several entrepreneurs I admired were speaking, I decided to attend.
It was a decision that changed my whole trajectory.
The information relayed by the speakers was invaluable. The work we did in smaller group sessions spurred me to create a lofty new set of business goals.
But the greatest benefit was meeting a group of friends that became a lasting source of help and motivation, personally and professionally.
When choosing a conference to attend, consider how much money you are willing to invest, how far you want to travel, and what size of an event would be most helpful to you at this stage of your business.
A smaller number of people means it’s more likely you will get to know a few people during your time there.
Here’s three conferences I have attended and got a lot out of.
Tropical Think Tank
The first conference I chose was Tropical Think Tank. It was a long way for me to travel, but the intimate size and format were precisely what I needed.
If you are just starting out, working in small groups with one-on-one input from mentors might be exactly what you need. Tropical Think Tank was exactly that.
The Dynamite Circle
If you’d like to tap into a global network of entrepreneurial peers, you can join groups like the Dynamite Circle (known to most as the DC) — although you will have to apply and pass their rigorous criteria.
Attending an international DC event will give you plenty of opportunities to socialize and meet people in casual gatherings.
Also, you’ll get to hear speaker presentations on all aspects of business ownership, including e-commerce, SaaS, and marketing.
Once you’re a member of DC, you will be able to find entrepreneurs all over the world and connect in person at local meetups.
Idea to Exit
I had the privilege of attending a phenomenal conference last year when Dan Martell presented Idea to Exit in Toronto.
Watching high-calibre speakers in an intimate conference, such as the powerhouse Dan Martell, is hugely motivating and always worth the investment.
To make meaningful connections with people at an event, you have to take the initiative and find ways to spark conversation with other attendees.
If you watch the speakers and then head home or back to your hotel room, you are missing a great opportunity to expand your network.
Take advantage of the social events outside of the main stage speakers to connect with people.
If you are an introvert and you don’t feel great in large crowds, introduce yourself to someone and arrange to meet for coffee or a drink after the presentations.
You never know who could be sitting next to you, and where a conversation might lead.
Social networks aren't only fake news
For direct, free, 24-hour peer support and motivation, nothing beats being part of an active online community. Sites like Reddit have active communities of people that are happy to share what they know and give constructive feedback when you ask for it.
Many people that teach business or coach entrepreneurs have set up private forums too, so try joining one if you’ve found what looks like an active community.
One of the benefits of online communities is the ability to crowd-source advice and solutions for your business.
If you don’t have people around you who will understand what you are talking about or care when you are split testing your sales funnel or working on a new MVP, count on supportive strangers on the internet to help you out.
The key to making the most of online entrepreneurship communities is to participate.
No matter where you are in your journey, you are surely further ahead than someone, so jump in and share what you know. If nothing else, it’s good karma.
Once you have spent some time getting to know the community and participating in discussions, you might take it a step further and reach out to find yourself a mastermind group.
Mastermind groups for fun and profit
The first conference I went to ended up coming through for me in more ways than one. Not only did I learn from the fantastic speakers and workshops, but I met the people that would form my mastermind group, which is going strong to this day.
What is a mastermind group?
A mastermind group is a small group that regularly meets, in person or online, for accountability, goal-setting, and strategizing. It works best when the members are all equally committed, and prioritize scheduled conversations or meetings.
It can be comprised of people in different types of businesses, as long as you have shared values and similar goals.
By pooling knowledge, skills, and connections, a mastermind group can bring new ideas to your business. You’ll get to know the other members’ businesses intimately, and will be able to provide valuable objective advice.
A mastermind group can help you set realistic goals and develop strategies to achieve them. Perhaps most importantly, your group will keep you accountable for meeting those goals.
There are various ways to structure it. Ideally, you will have regularly scheduled weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meet-ups, via Skype or in person if you happen to be in the same location.
Jonny’s mastermind example:
My mastermind group consists of Nathan, Andres, and myself. Nathan is currently on Remote Year and therefore in a different country every month. Andres, although based out of Austin, travels the world extensively.
We meet every Wednesday morning via Skype audio. For daily updates and questions, we chat via WhatsApp on our phones. We have done this every week for over two years.
Since you will not likely all live in the same geographic area, making an annual trip together is a great opportunity to go deep, set goals, and overcome obstacles in a new setting.
The shared experience of travel with your mastermind friends is a fun way to strengthen the group’s bonds while working on your businesses.
The direct approach
Do you want a more direct way to build the network that will help take your business to the next level?
If you don’t already know who they are, find people who have done what you are trying to do, or who have inspired you as entrepreneurs. Reach out to them directly, but make sure you do it right.
I recently spoke with Craig Ballantyne, author of Perfect Day Formula. In the interview, he describes how he built the network he credits with his success, despite being an introvert.
He recommends reaching out to people that you want to connect with by being helpful and not expecting anything in return.
For example, as James Altucher suggests, send someone ten ideas for ways to improve their business or articles they could write for their blog.
There is a chance this could develop into an ongoing conversation with someone from whom you have a lot to learn.
Networking expert Kelly Hoey also provides some incredibly useful advice about expanding your network. Once you’ve established a relationship with someone, keep it going by regularly touching base to let them know what you are up to.
If you only reach out when you need something, you will become more of a burden than a friend.
Be generous and genuine to expand your network
If you take some steps outside of your comfort zone, you can have a real community of friends and supporters no matter where you live.
Conferences, online communities, mastermind groups and business mentors are all out there waiting for you to reach out and say hello.
Be generous and genuine, and there is no way you can’t succeed in expanding your entrepreneurial network.