Lonely at the top: the importance of networking

by Angus Jones

There is an etymologically questionable proverb that says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together’. Quoted by such leaders as Warren Buffet, Hilary Clinton, Cory Booker, and Al Gore, the core truth remains that small business leadership can be the loneliest role that you will ever undertake.

As chief executive – and chief bottle washer – no one has the eagle eye over your business that you do. However, as well as CEO you are also likely to head up HR, WHS and IT – just a few of the acronyms you take up with your mantle. It’s easy to get lost in taking care of everyone and everything and start to lose sight of the motivation with which you began your business.

If you sink into patterns of completion and just ‘hanging on’, rather than striving for growth and innovation, you might find yourself hitting a wall. Worse still is the growing strain on your health, mental health and relationships, in and out of work.

It’s vital for CEOs to realise this all too common trap and take steps to mitigate the isolation and at times overwhelming nature of managing every aspect of your business alone. A key support mechanism here is your network – a vital resource for business owners to succeed. No successful CEO in the world achieves success alone, no matter the size of the enterprise. We all need a support network around us to succeed, backing us up when we feel our whole world is on our shoulders.

Opportunity cost

Exploring what various networking groups have to offer you can often take second place to time and money, two resources of which hardworking business owners have little to spare. It’s worth considering that a small investment in funds and time may reap big rewards. What price do you put on your mental health? What do you stand to lose if you don’t find the support you need from like-minded peers?

No matter who I speak with in my own dealer group, Office Brands, no member uses our services in the same way. We are all unique and the model of baseline support and connection, together with specialised service, means that members can pick and choose to engage with what they need specifically for their business.

One common thread our members have is that they talk to each other, not just at coordinated events, but on the phone, by email, and in casual meetings. They ask questions, and challenge and support each other to improve. They share successes and strategies to ensure our group continues to grow.

Where to connect

There are many great ways for small businesses to connect these days with networking groups, dealer groups, expos and conventions. There is a myriad of options online with social media and digital business groups, as well as a recovery in face-to-face networking functions.

Contrary to popular belief, these sorts of events are not just junkets. They can be a source of strength, support and collegiality which can go a long way to easing the isolation and garnering valuable advice and resources.

If you are just starting out it can be useful to do some research into small business industry bodies – national or state-based – that often have a variety of resources and information available. Also, the industry groups relevant to your specific business can be very useful for networking events, informative newsletters with news developments and analysis, online training and more. It only takes the first step to find a world of peer support you never knew was out there.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t speak with one of our members for some reason – learning, sharing, or hypothesizing on our next great adventure. In the first 12 months in my role, this helped me to collaborate with our team and board to set our three-year strategy. The initiatives and innovations that occurred were very much inspired and supported by networking with our members.

 I encourage you to do the same in whatever industry or small business sector you are in. If you are in it for the long game, it’s far better to walk forward together.

Adam Joy is the CEO of Office Brands and the former CEO of the Australian Newsagents Federation. He provides leadership, development and strategic planning to ensure optimal business outcomes. 

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