How to build a support network

Thinking of starting a business? You may think you can do it all alone as you prepare yourself to become a small business owner, but having a strong support network around you can be a significant advantage.

This article for soon-to-be business owners covers:

  • Who you should ask to support you as you prepare your business - friends, family, or other business owners.
  • How to network productively - with questions prepared in advance, business cards and through social media.
  • What skills your core support network should have to support you.

For more support, get your free ANZ Business Start-up guide, full of tips and information to make the journey to start-up a smooth and exciting one.

Support from day one

Assessing your idea

A support group can play an important role when you’re at the stage of assessing the feasibility of your idea. There will always be many ways you can improve your concept and therefore enhance your chances of success. The more brains you can bring to bear on your plans the better.

Be careful not to rely solely on friends or family to give you advice about your idea because they may simply want to support your enthusiasm. Surround yourself instead (like other successful owners) with a team of expert advisers.

Advice from one experienced business person who has overcome the challenges of starting a business can be worth far more than the opinions of others who may never have run a business.

Find time for networking

Put simply, networking is engaging with like-minded and/or local business people in your area.

You may feel you’re too busy to network while you are firming up your business concept, especially if you are currently working full-time for someone else, but it is well worth finding the time. Consider it an investment in the future.

Networking gives you the opportunity to discuss the challenges of starting a business with other small business owners at a similar stage, as well as with more experienced owners.

Some suggestions for productive networking:

  • Start attending free ANZ business workshops running in your area to network with other business owners.
  • Join your local Chamber of Commerce and any relevant industry or business associations.
  • Look for other business groups and networks in your area.

When you meet experienced business people you can ask them to recommend the right people for your core advisory group.

Whatever type of business you’re planning it’s a real advantage to select advisers such as accountants or lawyers with experience in your industry.

These advisers can help you assess your business idea and point out any specific issues in your industry. Once you're up and running, they may be able to supply you with average performance indicators for the industry, such as gross and net profit margins, or stock turn rates. These will enable you to set performance targets for your business to match industry averages.

Build a core group

Use advice from business colleagues and contacts to select your core group of advisers.

  • An ANZ Business Specialist can help you develop your plans for the business and provide a tailored banking solution for your needs.
  • A lawyer familiar with small business work can help you design suitable terms of trade for your invoices and give you advice on business contracts and leases. Never sign a lease on a building or equipment before you have consulted your lawyer.
  • An accountant with experience of your industry type can help you understand the special wrinkles of the industry you are entering, and set you up with a suitable chart of accounts. Your accountant can also check your financial forecasts are both realistic and include all the important features and costs.
  • A business mentor can be a valuable source of help with your strategic planning and a sounding board for day-to-day decisions. A mentor is there to challenge your ideas as well as support them.

Mentors can help in four key areas:

  • Market demand.
  • Competitive advantage.
  • Marketing strategy.
  • Financial feasibility. 

One way to find a mentor is simply to approach a successful business person you know or admire and ask for their help. If you don’t know of any likely mentors, investigate available mentoring services.

Add specialists

Add specialists to your core group as needed. For example:

  • An IT expert for advice on website development and all matters related to online business.
  • A financial adviser for advice on loans and funding sources.
  • A marketing consultant to help you develop a productive promotion plan for your first year.

Broadening your business network

With your core advisory group sorted, work at widening your circle. Do this systematically. Always make sure you have a business card to give people you meet and dedicate set times to engage in social media. Platforms such as LinkedIn provide great opportunities to network online and start discussions with other professionals.

To get the most out of networking, go to meetings with specific questions you need answers to. For example, in the software area, you may want to ask these questions:

  • “What accounting package do you use in your business? How user friendly is it and does it generate the reports you need to manage your business?”
  • “How do you manage your customer database? Can you recommend a software program?”
  • “Is there an off-the shelf inventory control and point of sale software solution for our industry?”

For many people, the idea of networking can be challenging, especially if you’re not used to it. The more you do it, the more comfortable it will become. To help you build your skills, consider registering for our free workshop, ‘How to network and grow your business’. You’ll learn practical skills in a fun environment, plus you’ll broaden your network by meeting like-minded business owners.

Make networking a habit

Continue the process of widening your network throughout your business life. It will help you find answers and lead to new opportunities and customers.

Next step

Get your free Business Start-up guide

Building a support network as you start your own business is a great way to set your business up for success. Another way is with the free ANZ Business Start-up guide. Filled with tips, and information for start-ups, this guide can help make the process of starting your business smoother and easier.

For more information

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This material is provided as a complimentary service of ANZ. It is prepared based on information and sources ANZ believes to be reliable. Its content is for information only, is subject to change and is not a substitute for commercial judgement or professional advice, which should be sought prior to acting in reliance on it. To the extent permitted by law ANZ disclaims liability or responsibility to any person for any direct or indirect loss or damage that may result from any act or omissions by any person in relation to the material.