Your personal brand plays a key role in the types of relationships you build both online and offline. The people you spend the most time with play an incredibly influential role in who you become and how you view yourself and your goals.
As a kid, life was simple and I needed just two types of people in my life: Family and Friends. Back then, my mom was the biggest influence on my life. Her desire to run a business of her own initially inspired me to want a business for myself.
Since starting my business in 2014, I discovered that I needed other types of people to keep me motivated. All those doubts and frustrations when first starting out can really derail you if you don’t have a good network in place.
You’ll have a much better chance of long-term success when you have these 5 types of people in your network:
Mentor - The person you turn to for wisdom and direction; often an expert in the area you’re interested in.
Champion - The person who can influence the perceptions and actions of others and connect you to a broader quality network.
Collaborator - The person you partner with to complete a project
Clients - The person who consumes your product/service, hopefully repeatedly
Supporter - The person you turn to when you need motivation and a listening ear.
The right mentor helps you believe your dream is achievable and lays out a path you can follow.
I met my first mentor after graduating college in 2009. During the recession, I couldn’t find a job and was looking through Craigslist for part-time gigs. I applied for a graphic designer position for Glossy Finish, a local youth-sports photography company here in Jacksonville, Florida.
Meeting the owner, Haim, changed my life. Though he hired me as a designer, when I expressed interest in learning sports photography, he took me under his wing and taught me how to shoot. More importantly, he showed me what it was like to build a business from the ground up, how to sell the value of his product - we don’t just take sports photos, we capture memories that customers can take home.
Since then, I’ve found other mentors both in-person and online. I’m a huge fan of Jasmine Star and Jamie Swanson, who have both built photography-based communities and consistently share step-by-step resources (often free) on branding and business strategies. And I also just adore how passionately they encourage us to overcome our limiting-beliefs - whether it be about pricing or starting out in a new industry.
CHAMPIONS DON’T JUST OPEN DOORS FOR YOU - THEY ACTIVELY PULL YOU THROUGH THEM.
In my current corporate job, I was blessed with a boss who provided me with multiple opportunities to work on high-visibility projects. I performed well and senior leadership took notice. During performance reviews, my boss championed my work ethic and job-plus efforts - I was promoted twice in my first two years.
Having someone actively promoting you to a group of people outside your current network is a game changer. Your sphere of influence grows just through this one person.
Tips for finding Champions:
When attending meetings or events, identify the person in the room that everyone listens to. This person has influence over larger groups that s/he can introduce you to if you can provide value.
Collaborators help build up your portfolio and can become future customers or referral partners.
Working with collaborators is a great way to experiment with your technique or try something new. The key to a good collaboration is to make sure both parties are receiving something of value.
For example, when I wanted to grow my product photography portfolio, I approached a local tea shop owner who was launching her first e-commerce site. I offered to photograph her tea flavors and teacup sets. While she couldn’t afford to pay cash, she did provide gift cards to her store, which was a bonus since I shopped there anyway.
We both benefited from a marketing aspect - I had portfolio images to promote my product photography service and she had quality images for her website.
Tips for finding collaborators:
Partner with an entrepreneur within your industry on a project that appeals to the same type of customer.
Identify a business you already buy from that could benefit from a product/service you offer. Since you’re a current customer, you should have a good idea of their branding and what assets they may need.
when you build a genuine relationship and partnership with clients, they’ll come back for more.
When you position yourself as a helpful guide that helps clients overcome their problems, then people will be eager to work with you - repeatedly. The trick is knowing the right problem to solve for your ideal client.
Clients are the life-blood for any business. Many people in your current network may not be a client right now but could be in the future, given the right timing, pricing, etc. So if there’s someone you really want to hire you, nurture that relationship first so that you stay top-of-mind.
And once someone does become a client, think of small ways to thank or surprise them. No matter what price point they’re paying, make every client feel like a VIP - their referral power will pay you back tenfold.
true supporters keep you going after failures and help you appreciate small wins.
Running a business can be draining and often lonely, especially as a solopreneur. Failures will 100% happen and sometimes your own mental strength won’t be enough. It’s in those moments that you need at least one person you can lean on, whether a spouse/significant other, parent, friend, teacher, coworker, or even current clients.
Supporters don’t necessarily have to know much about your industry. They just have to know you, provide a listening ear, and occasionally remind you why you started this crazy entrepreneurial journey in the first place =)
Don’t worry if you don’t have all these types of people in your life yet. It comes with time and an awareness of who you can seek out beyond your immediate circle of friends and family.
Just remember that whoever your current Top 5 people are, make sure they are positive people. It’s all too common for us to sink into worry and self-doubt - you don’t need those closest to you to add their negative energy as well.
So while your Top 5 shouldn’t always agree with you, they should be an uplifting presence - and that can take you far as you pursue your dreams!