Entrepreneurial success isn't easy to achieve, and it's even harder when you're going it alone. Every entrepreneur needs to build a network of sustaining individuals who fill key relationship roles -- -- and LinkedIn is stepping in to help.
The business-centric social network is preparing to roll out Career Advice, a new service to connect its members with potential mentors. Users set preferences about the advice they'd like to give or receive, and LinkedIn suggests possible partnerships within their networks, schools or regions. Once connected, mentor and mentee can talk using LinkedIn's messaging service.
How valuable are these connections? In a MicroMentor survey of more than 700 participants, entrepreneurs with mentors increased their business revenue by 83 percent; mentorless small businesses gained only 16 percent in the same period.
Life is a team sport, and we cannot succeed alone. Building healthy, supportive relationships is more than a cornerstone of life and dream fulfillment; nourishing ourselves with the words, advice, and caring of others is embedded in humanity's very fabric.
A biological drive to connect
If I asked you to list humanity's basic needs, you likely would include food, water and shelter. But that list would be incomplete without mention of social connections.
Matthew Lieberman, author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, has explored the psychological association between trusting social relationships and personal and professional success. Fewer than 5 percent of the 60,000 leaders he examined for his book described themselves as adept at both forming strong relationships and turning in important business results. The takeaway? Many individuals cannot easily bring ideas to market, and so leave innovations to "wither."
I echo Lieberman's sentiments: Building networks and leveraging the talent of a team of gifted persons results in major benefits. When you recognize and celebrate the strengths of others, you uplift people and reduce stress-producing interactions. Instead of seeds of doubt, you plant seeds of energy -- and watch your true potential and greatness evolve.
Who do you need to be in your corner?
Although you might be great at connecting with your team at work, you need to branch out beyond your company or field to find new friends. Think about everyone in your life who plays a pivotal part in helping you get from today to tomorrow. Ideally, you should have each of the following personalities in your corner:
1. The cheerleader. Doesn't everyone deserve to look to the sidelines and see someone rooting just for them? When the chips are down, this person says "Everything's going to be OK" and makes the tough stuff easier. He or she is excited for your achievements and urges you to work hard -- and this verbal encouragement will help you achieve your goals, just as it can help athletes perform better. No better tireless advocate exists than the cheerleader.
One way to attract cheerleader types into your sphere is to show appreciation for others. Comment on your colleagues' positive behaviors and contributions, especially if you've neglected to say anything thus far. Send a handwritten note to a colleague or friend to thank him or her. The more you emit cheerleader vibes, the more likely you'll magnetize these much-needed friends to your own corner.
2. The mentor. When you're dealing with a startup's ups and downs, you need someone you can call who has navigated similar hurdles. Find a person who exhibits the traits you covet, and ask him or her to be your mentor. If you can engage at least once a month to share ideas and get advice, you'll start to see your confidence and business acumen soar. Just ask Bill Gates: He credits his mentor, Warren Buffett, with teaching him to change the way he thinks and with igniting his interest in philanthropy.
Finding and securing a mentor takes both audacity and patience. First, write down the specific expectations you have for a mentoring relationship. Then, seek out mentors from all your in-person and online business and social networks. Ask for an exploratory meeting to discuss forming a formal mentorship relationship. If you can get a commitment, make sure each meeting covers what you both need.
3. The foxhole buddy. The foxhole buddy is someone you can count on to be with you day in and day out. You need a partner who will have your back every day and whose skills complement your own. Consider the partnership between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, co-founders of Apple: Wozniak was the mastermind behind the tech giant's first offerings, while Jobs focused on building the future of the company. Wozniak has said that a combination of technological expertise and business acumen like theirs is key to overall success.
You and your foxhole buddy should be the "yin" to each other's "yang," able to combine forces and make an unstoppable team. Make sure you're both headed toward the same goal and focused on the same future so you can get there together.
Bring the smartest, most optimistic people with real-world experience into your inner circle. The more intentional you are in your relationships, the more your investment in social connections will pay business and spiritual dividends.