Building Your Inner Circle
You’ve built an amazing company, and now it’s time to get to work helping it grow. In addition to optimizing processes and creating new marketing plans, this is a good point at which to consider your inner circle and how they impact the success of your business. This may contain anyone from key employees to investors, and without them around, your business wouldn’t be what it is today.
Building your inner circle comes down to cultivating meaningful relationships and turning them into a community of support. Achieving a web of beneficial connections is something that can be accomplished by anyone—whether you are a highly creative introvert or a networking wizard—starting with awareness and strategy.
Awareness and Strategy
Your inner circle consists of the people you spend the most time around or those you turn to for important decisions. To cultivate the most impactful group, begin assessing who is currently in your inner circle and consider the changes it might need. Start by making a list of the 10 people you either spend the most time around or rely on the most for decisions.
These could be family members, friends, teachers, advisors, business peers, your bank, or employees—anyone that provides assistance, advice, or mentorship for business-related issues.
Then, consider the roles each individual plays in your inner circle, such as:
- The types of contributions they make
- Other people they might know or have access to
- Whether they have more or less experience than you
- The field of work they are in
People have many functions in your life, and no single person will fill every requirement; for example, a significant other, friend, or roommate can contribute to your mood, affecting your day-to-day performance. On the other hand, people with more experience in your chosen field can help answer questions and assist with weighing your options in a variety of situations.
Once you have your list, think about the type of relationship you have with each person. For example, can you trust those with more experience than you? How often do you talk to them? Or maybe your list is much too large, making it difficult to have meaningful relationships with everyone. To create an action plan for building your inner circle, think about what you are realistically capable of maintaining and the people you already have who can help fill gaps you’ve identified.
Building Your Inner Circle
To build a well-rounded inner circle, you might have to venture outside your comfort zone. But before you do that, you can maximize the relationships you already have. For instance, if you have investors you rarely talk to, schedule a meeting to find out where their talents lie. Because they have a stake in the business’s success, it’s in their best interest to support you with their skills or networks. You can also look at your professional relationships, like the ones you have with your bank and legal counsel. Are you using their expertise to the fullest?
Consider the decisions you have made recently and who helped you make them. Our recent survey showed that the larger a company’s valuation, the more its leaders relied on professional partners like investors, banks, and legal counsel to make sound decisions.
In addition to people you already know, you’ll want to focus on extending your network. You probably have a list of people in your industry and others from trade shows and events. Shoot them an email to see if they are open to chatting about current events in your sector. You might not learn their secret to slashing customer acquisition costs, but they can share perceptions and understandings you might not have thought of on your own.
Another course of action is to expand customer and vendor relationships. These people may not be directly involved with your industry, but they can provide good insights from alternative points of view. Other great people to form connections with are those in government or the media. Media connections are good for when you have announcements and press releases. Government connections are beneficial if you are looking to open a new location or are involved in a regulated industry.
Regardless of your location, there are many options for meeting people and expanding your network. You might consider making new connections by:
- Joining your local Chamber of Commerce
- Searching for Small Business Associations or Entrepreneurial groups in your area
- Attending town hall talks and other small political events
- Talking to other business owners in your area to find out how they network
- For those located away from densely populated areas, making the most of online groups
After accumulating a little black book of contacts, work on strategies for managing those relationships. Every relationship will be different, taking assorted amounts of resources and time—just be sure the benefits of the relationship are proportional to what it takes to maintain.
All relationships require some amount of reciprocity. A good rule of thumb for business relationship dynamics is that you will get out of a relationship roughly what you put in. For example, you may regard a close business associate as a mentor and someone to look up to. You see the relationship as one-sided, where you have taken a lot—but you have also contributed to the growth of your mentor by asking questions and encouraging them to further master their craft.
Managing individuals in your inner circle involves building a strategy around your contributions and what you want to gain over the short and long term. Here are a couple of examples:
These are people you have either paid for services or who have invested in you. If you simply pay the required fees, you can expect to receive only the work you paid for in return. On the other hand, if you put some effort into being congenial and interested in them outside of what you need, they might be willing to prioritize your work when things get busy or help with a side project or inquiry. The possible benefits of these types of connections can prove invaluable over the lifetime of the relationship.
People in Similar or Parallel Industries
These could be people you met at a networking or Chamber of Commerce event, trade show, or other similar function. Rather than waiting for the next event to see if they show up, schedule a regular time with a handful of these people to talk shop. Give input, take notes, and work with others on their problems. The chances are, you all face similar issues, and banding together on solutions could prove to be much more powerful than going it alone.
What Your Inner Circle Should Provide
It may seem like a lot of extra work to build and manage an inner circle for your business, but you probably do much of this work already. Take some time to assess and visualize the ideal inner circle for you and your business. Your inner circle should essentially be a community that offers support, direction, ideas, and inspiration. If you are curious about how other companies make decisions, check out the Sphere of Influence Infographic to discover more about our findings on how different-sized companies use their advisory and professional circles.