Skepticism from friends and family is something many a would-be entrepreneur becomes quite familiar with on the road to realizing a business vision. Maybe you have an Aunt Mabel who, with brow furrowed from behind the gravy boat at Thanksgiving, says: "Start your own business? But we're in a recession. Aren't their smarter ways to earn money?"
For those determined souls out there, starting a business is an uphill battle that must be met with a reserve of perseverance and courage. And the secret to keeping that reserve strong? A strong business support network -- those people who will cheer you on, offer you the right advice, and help you to scale the mountain.
Find your peers
Start at places where like-minded entrepreneurs congregate -- and brush up on your networking skills. The local Chamber of Commerce may be a great place to start, or a business course at the local college. Meetup.com is further a great place to connect with those who share your entrepreneurial drive. Look for peers who are at the approximate place you are in starting your own business.
Cultivate a mentor
While it's great to have a group of peers who are right there in the trenches with you, you should also have a reliable mentor who can give you vital seasoned advice on the business sector you are pursuing. Mentorships can be formal or informal, and typically they begin with you approaching a leader you admire for advice. You'd be surprised how generous many experienced business people can be -- in many cases a mentor made a difference in their careers, so they are eager to give back. Get more ideas about finding a mentor here.
Use every free service you can
The Small Business Administration funds many business education centers around the country that are there to counsel individuals on successfully starting their own businesses. Set up an appointment and be matched up with a seasoned counselor -- for free! Many cities also have business libraries that will equip you with powerful resources on starting up -- including free classes. Here's a great roundup of resources.
Don't go it alone
The coworking movement is exploding in towns and cities across the nation. Coworking just means using shared office resources with other entrepreneurs. Pay a monthly fee for shared or private desk space, and you'll get access to not only printers and wifi -- but also a network of like-minded individuals who may have ideas or resources to share with you.
Form a group
Once you have met a promising fellow traveller or two, consider forming a business support group. The purpose of a business support group is to establish and track goals, and to learn from the experience of others. Set specific goals: completing a business plan, launching a website, meeting with ten potential investors or partners. Your business support group is there to hear your triumphs as well as your frustrations.
Whether you meet every few weeks or months, your group will become a vital way of being accountable to someone, as well as setting -- and meeting -- your goals.
Though it helps to have face-to-face interactions, your support network can be virtual as well. Find and follow people facing the same challenges on networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Comment on blogs that cover the same issues you face. Before long you'll start to recognize familiar faces. Check out these ideas on "virtual networking."
It's tough out there for an entrepreneur. Make sure you are cultivating the kind of network who will help support you through good times and bad.