As an entrepreneur you may think you don't need to network -- that's for big company employees.

However entrepreneurs need to build more social capital, not less. And, as an entrepreneur, you should make sure your network is both deep and broad.

Your deep network brings you support -- critical to maintain your mood through the ups and down of startup life. You can activate your deep network when you need to make a call to get the scoop on something or you need a quick favor. And, let's face it: being a founder is lonely. There are very few people you can be open and vulnerable with. Within your deep network you will likely find one or two people you an open up to.

The broad part of your network gives you access to people you don't know with different information and perspective. This is very valuable since we tend to mostly hang out with people who are like us. Your broad network will introduce you to people who might mentor you with new ideas and perspectives. Your broad network will challenge you and give you ammunition to connect disparate dots.

Both your deep and broad networks networks together provide you introductions to employees, customers, funders, professionals and everyone else your business needs to grow. Ultimately your network may even help you get acquired

The way to build your network is not, mercifully, to attend networking events. Instead build your network before you need it by "paying in" to the startup ecosystem around you.

Make an effort to connect other founders.

Founders are the only ones who really understand other founders: Their highs and lows, their anxieties, their triumphs, and their sleepless nights navigating through relentless uncertainty. One way you can build your network is simply to organize casual gatherings over dinner or coffee of local founders. It's simple to coordinate -- just hold it at a local coffee shop or restaurant and have everyone pay her own way.

If you do this you will also get to be known as a connector of others. As the hub of introductions others will seek you out and so you will continue to broaden your network. This is both gratifying and valuable. 

One co-founder I coach, Nate, is the CTO of his company. About two years ago he started pulling together informal gatherings of other CTO founders. You might think that technical people don't want to meet others, but it's actually the opposite. Technical founders do want to connect but they don't always know how -- networking events are torture for them and they aren't necessarily social enough to know about events that would be more of a fit for them.

So these dinners were perfect. Everyone appreciated the opportunity to share their unique problems with a group that could understand them. Nate also found that the dinners helped him find new ways to recruit tech talent and gave him perspective on how to run team meetings, so in addition to positioning himself as a connector he got tangible takeaways out of the gatherings.

Speak at events.

Another way to add value to your ecosystem is to say yes to speaking engagements. People want to hear about your experiences and about mistakes you've made and what you've learned from them. So when you're asked to speak say yes, even when you think you're too busy and even if you (like many) are afraid to do public speaking. If you say yes you will have to do it.

Accelerators love to have startup founders speak, as do tech conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt and others. There are many local organizations that love to include founders. If you tell people you want to be on a panel or look up some local events, you will easily find

Let others know that you're available to help.

As you build your network, lawyers, venture capitalists, and other founders will want your take on something or will want you to give advice to another founder. Take the opportunity to help. You will be memorable as a "giver," so when you need something -- and you inevitably will -- others will go out of their way to help you.

It may be obvious to take calls from VCs -- building relationships with investors is an idea that speaks for itself. One of the startup CEOs I coach in Chicago also always take calls from lawyers and other founders. One of his first investors and board members - who has been incredibly supportive and tangibly helpful -- got introduced through a lawyer who had called asking for a favor. And, he says, having gone through the pain of the last seven years of his startup, he wants to give back by helping other founders avoid his mistakes.

Success all comes down to thinking about how to be a part of the startup community, adding value, and asking for help when you need it. That's how you build your social capital as an entrepreneur which will ultimately benefit both you and the company.

Published on: Jun 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.