The cliché “It takes a village” applies to creating a sustainable business. My network is my most important asset after my customers. They’re my “Sustainability Squad.” They are the “behind the scenes” who are a major factor in my success in business and in life.
Here are the six groups of people you’ll want to recruit from for your Sustainability Squad:
Let’s take a look at each group, what they do for you, and how to find them.
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Mentors keep you sustainable by providing clarity. Mentors have walked the path you’re on now and are themselves, a representation of your future vision. They are usually specific to your industry, are successful, and have volumes of well-earned wisdom to share. They are important because they have blazed the path to you want to follow. You learn from both their successes and their failures.
Mentors are found by joining associations, going to events, asking for recommendations from peers, and watching the movers and shakers in your industry. (On occasion, you may find a mentor in a competitor.) Pick your mentors wisely and choose individuals with values that align with your own and who have demonstrated achieving a level of success above your own.
Work regularly with your mentors for guidance on industry or topic specific challenges. Remember, you are the seeker (apprentice?) in the relationship, and need to show up with questions and be open to listening to their solutions. As mentors are often unpaid, make sure you establish a way to provide mutual value.
Teachers keep you sustainable by providing you skills. Teachers add skills to your inventory. Some are transient in your life, others are there long term. Some you may never meet in person, but their impact is substantial, nonetheless. Teachers are important because they instill both the fundamentals and the finer points of what you need to learn.
Teachers are found by utilizing your networks (peers, colleagues) and using search engines. They show up in person, in videos, in books, on podcasts, and anywhere knowledge is provided. They may not always align with your mission or are specific to your industry, but that’s okay because they teach transferable skills that you take and make your own.
Utilize teachers as often as you can and especially when needing to add a new skill to your repertoire. Teachers should be paid, although some work for the love of teaching.
Coaches keep you sustainable by supporting you. Coaches help you realize your potential. They don’t need to be successful at what it is you want to achieve, they simply need to be capable of coaching you to realize that goal. You will establish a very intimate relationship with your coaches, so be sure to choose those individuals who align with your values and whom you trust wholeheartedly.
Coaches are found through peer networks, professional organizations, and through searches and recommendations. Coaching is a growing multi-billion dollar industry and there is a good reason why—coaching works. Some will work with you individually, others in a group setting; some stay with you long-term, others will coach a specific topic or task and then move on.
Your coaches are the unsung heroes of your accomplishments and will find resolve, resilience, success and joy in you that you didn’t know you had. Work with your coaches on a planned, regular basis.
Advisors keep you sustainable through their special skill set. . Advisors play a crucial role in decision making and problem solving. They have a specific set of skills and knowledge you don’t have and don’t have time to learn. Lawyers, accountants, IT professionals, insurance agents, bankers, financial advisors and many more fall into this category.
Industry peers are a great place to find advisors. Ask for referrals from your other network members such as your mentors.
Sponsors keep you sustainable because they are a path to growth, recognition, and expansion. Sponsors go out into the world and tell people about you. They are the golden goose of your Sustainability Squad because they always come with referrals and rewards. They introduce you to people who change your life and your business. They nominate you for awards and recognize your accomplishments. Sponsors also act as benefactors who directly support you and your business.
Sponsors are found everywhere in your network and are not paid. Often they will be your clients. Sometimes they are teachers or mentors who go the extra mile. Sometimes they may be a coach or advisor. At times, you may not even know they exist. They are found both within your industry and outside of it. I encourage you to seek out sponsors—especially women who are not used to asking people to represent them!
Cheerleaders keep you sustainable just by their mere presence. The final group in your Sustainability Squad may be last, but they definitely are not least: your cheerleaders. These folks show up in your family, friends, client base and beyond. They are there to support, bolster you and help pick you up if you fall. They are never paid, except in a thank you here and there, and it doesn’t matter if they are connected to your industry or not.
Cheerleaders are everywhere. Recognizing them and being grateful for their presence is cathartic and energizing to a weary entrepreneur. Be thankful every day for this group. Their spirit is inspiring.
How to Start Building Your Sustainability Squad
Building your Sustainability Squad starts with taking an inventory of the assets you already have. On a piece of paper, list the people in your life who already fit in these categories. Next, examine where there are holes. Where could you use some recruiting? Also take time to plot out how to better communicate with your Sustainability Squad on a regular basis. (I recommend keeping the names of your Squad listed in writing and making sure they are in your CRM software!)
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