To build a successful business, you’ll need to have more than financial capital (the funds) and human capital (the team). You also need social capital (the relationships).
Coined by social scientist Alexis de Tocqueville and made popular by political scientist Robert Putnam, the term ”social capital” describes the richness of your interactions with other people — in other words, the connections, the information, and the resources that your various relationships offer you and your business.
Simply put — social capital is about who you know and how you’re able to leverage the relationships you have. When you have more social capital, you can find more business opportunities and discover better-aligned business partners and clients more easily.
The power of good social capital is evident in how one drums up new business. In an Alignable survey of 7,500 North American small business owners, 85 percent said that they found local customers through word-of-mouth referrals. In other words, these businesses had social capital in their local communities.
But not everyone has equal amounts of social capital. Due to systemic racism, social capital is something that Black Americans have lacked, as the groups that have higher social capital (e.g., white men) tend to hoard it as they exclude people of color from opportunities, connections, and resources. When this reality is coupled with sexism, it means that Black women can face an even steeper uphill climb as they work to build social capital.
So how can you build more social capital? The following are ten no-no’s that you should avoid while networking and building connections that turn into resources and sales into deals.
No-No #1— You’re Staying in The Same Circle
We mentioned above how social capital tends to favor certain groups over others, giving some people more and other people less just by default. One way to break out of this cycle a little is to try and move among different groups when looking for new opportunities. If you run in the same professional circles and see the same people over and over again, then you will eventually exhaust the reach you can have in that circle, which means that you won’t learn new things and hear about exciting new business opportunities that could be available to you from other circles with new and different types of resources and knowledge.
So don’t get too comfortable associating with only the one group of people. Instead, start thinking about your weak ties, a concept developed by sociologist Mark Granovetter.
Strong ties are the connections to people you know really well and have deep kinship or affinity with, the people within your circle. Weak ties are the connections with people you don’t know as well. These could be acquaintances or strangers who belong in the similar cultural background — such as a fellow female Black entrepreneur who works in the same co-working space as you.
The weak ties are what will bring in new information and bridge you to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise know about. So look to the people you don’t know as well and reach out to them.
No-No #2 — You’re the Smartest Person in Your Network
When you’ve become the smartest or most resourced person in your network, then people are benefiting from your knowledge or experience. It can be flattering to be heavily relied on, but it can also be exhausting and is one-sided. One of the strengths of social capital comes from the level of reciprocity you’re experiencing. So if you’ve become the expert, it’s time to take a look at who is a couple of steps behind you, who is right there alongside you, and who is a couple of steps ahead, and to balance your interactions with all three levels of colleagues. Doing this will make sure that you’re both giving wisdom to your peers and receiving it from those who are a step ahead!
One way that you can build social capital is to seek out a mentor. A successful mentorship can give you the kind of reciprocity you’ve been seeking. You’ll also enlarge your network, connecting with someone who is involved in their own social and professional circles. Forbes has some helpful advice on how to be a good mentee.
No-No #3 — Not Reciprocating or Being of Value to Your Network
On the other hand, if you’re the one who is taking more than giving in your network, consider ways to contribute too. Explore ways to volunteer within your network and support others. Start offering referrals to people within your network. As you are climbing the ladder to success, make sure you lift someone up as you climb.
By sharing your knowledge and expertise, you are providing value to your network and they will value you more in turn. Plus, you’ll be expanding your network even as you’re just starting out.
No-No #4 — Your Network Lacks Diversity
It can be very easy to get into a racial silo or niche. Do you only associate with your sorority, your church, or people with similar job roles in your industry? If so, then you’re not exploring new opportunities to connect with people who don’t look, talk, or think like you.
Consider complementary industries and agencies where partnerships make sense. For example, if you’re a copywriter and you’re seeking new clients, you should consider reaching out to web designers because they often will need a copywriter to create copy for the website. You can create a partnership with a web designer who will give you access to a new pool of potential clients.
Diversity is more than just race and sexual orientation. Diversity can be about different industries, roles, ages, or other regions or countries. Try new things, such as joining meet-ups and organizations where activities are out of your box and members are people you wouldn’t normally spend social time with. Travel and interact with your peers globally in online spaces.
No-No #5 — Your Network Has No Access to Resources
A network without access to outside resources won’t help you move your business to the next level. Let’s say that your network is full of people who are just starting out in their businesses. It may feel comfortable to affiliate with people who are going through challenges similar to yours. But not only is this network lacking diversity, most likely you’re all learning how to access important resources such as information about small business loans, mentors, or knowledge about trade shows or relevant professional conferences. Make a conscious effort to be in rooms where people have what you need – resources, connections, capital.
No-No #6 — You’re Not Having Fun in Your Network
Belonging around a group of entrepreneurs, especially in the beginning stages of creating your business, can sometimes be all hustle and grind and no fun. But it’s important to have some fun while you build your business. The best deals are made in social settings like the golf course, cigar bar, and spa.
Try adding social outings with people who you’d want to do business with or who are where you want to be someday financially. Besides taking a much-needed break from the daily grind, you may find some needed inspiration and a different perspective on work-life balance during these fun outings.
No-No #7 — Everybody in Your Network Thinks Like You
The truth is that when you’re going to the next level, you’re trying to solve new problems and take on new challenges, so you need new perspectives. Does your network sound like a panoply of different voices, or does it sound like an echo chamber? Does everyone look at business, or life, similarly to the way you do? You most likely won’t get your next great idea or business opportunity from someone who thinks like you.
As Albert Einstein says: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Diversity of thought can not only help you to problem solve but also help you grow as a person.
No-No #8 — You Don’t Have a Group of Inspiring People Around You
Let’s face it – creating a successful business does take a lot of hard work. But the seed of your business was a dream. You thought about who you wanted to serve, about how many people you’ve envisioned reaching, and about the life you wanted to create for yourself. But that dream can get lost in the daily grind.
When you’re around inspiring people, people who have been where you currently are right now, it makes growing your business a little easier and a lot more hope-filled.
Pay attention to your next 5 conversations. Are you inspired, filled with positivity, hope, energy? Or are you deflated and subjected to complaining, venting and drama? If it’s the latter, it may be time to rethink your circle.
No-No #9 — You’re Not Selective and Strategic About Who’s in Your Space
There may be people in your network that you can’t choose, like your family. But for your business, you want to be choosy and intentional about who you’re connecting with. This is something that women in particular fail to do. From the Solutions to Women’s Advancement report by the Gender Intelligence Group:
“Women are natural networkers, but they too often forget the strategic part of it. While men network for transactional reasons, women will network for relational reasons. That is, men network to obtain something, while women network for relationships and connections.”
Before your next networking event, consider your business goals and then identify people who can help you achieve those goals. Make sure you connect with them!
No-No #10 — You’re Not Getting Out and Meeting People Face-to-Face
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and especially LinkedIn can be effective virtual places to meet and connect with people. And although more of us are working remotely, most people (at least in this survey) prefer to meet face-to-face. Virgin has a list of stats of the benefits of face-to-face networking.
Especially as a solopreneur, it can be easy to get stuck in your bubble, so make sure you’re meeting with folks offline. Consider joining a co-working space, a Meetup group about something you’re passionate about, or volunteer work. These are all meaningful ways to expand your in-person network.
Building social capital as a Black woman can sometimes feel extra challenging due to the intersections of racism and sexism. But if you avoid the ten no-no’s above, you’ll find that you’re building a more robust network that helps to make your business more sustainable.
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