Although friends and family have been supportive as I start my new small business, at times it is a very lonely process. I often have questions about every little thing –- taxes, marketing, client satisfaction, you name it –- and I just don’t want to overwhelm anyone with my needs.

But early on, I searched online and found several professional networking groups in my area, as well as online communities like Small Business Bonfire for support. I quickly learned the value of networking with other small business owners, and some of the challenges as well.

They’ve walked the walk.

What makes local networking groups and online communities so special is the variety of experience and perspective each business owner brings to the group. I have found time and again that my questions are not unique, and that someone can either provide an answer for me or at least point me in the right direction. I have also found that beyond the practical knowledge of running a business, other small business owners can identify with the emotional drain that sometimes comes from being the boss. Learning how they’ve gotten through their own rough patches and found success inspires me.

They have skills that complement my own.

I offer a very specific set of services through my small business. But I know that clients will sometimes have needs related to, but outside of, the scope of my expertise. Networking with other small business owners gives me a great idea of who does what in my community, and allows me to recommend the perfect person for carrying my work into a new dimension. And ideally, through our association, other business owners will have my name in mind when the same opportunity arises with their clients.

And yet…networking takes time.

I have one particular networking group for which I’ve developed a deep loyalty -– many members have also become good friends in addition to professional colleagues. But I’ve had to be careful about not misplacing my priorities when it comes to time management.

The many emails, mixers, meet-ups, etc, can begin to eat away at the time I’ve set aside for my business, and pretty soon I’m networking more than actually working, and I’m not meeting certain goals for myself. There’s an irony there that is inescapable -– that networking can actually take you further away from success in business -– but it’s true. It’s important to network efficiently and keep your overall personal business goals always in mind.

And not everyone is in it for the right reasons.

An early lesson in networking with other professionals: not everyone wants to offer the same amount of support I’m willing to give. Some business owners, sadly, only belong to groups in order to promote themselves. It doesn’t take long to spot these individuals, and in the end I don’t think they find much success with their tactics. But it’s taught me to evaluate the professional associations I make and search for people who are interested in give and take, and who add value to my business experience.

I’m very grateful to have had others helps me along the way as a new small business owner. It’s important to me that I don’t exist in a vacuum, and that I can learn and grown through my relationships with other professionals. Have you found a group or other individuals who have helped you as a small business owner?

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