Over the last few months, I’ve been interviewing 100 female entrepreneurs for Get Sh!t Done. A Youtube series I’m creating to empower female entrepreneurs grow their companies in a meaningful way. My goal was to identify what our unifying growth hurdles are in our own words that require solutions that we can control. One of my conversations was with queen, Elena Valentine, the Co-Founder & CEO of Skill Scout. My conversation with Elena helped me to summarize what many other female entrepreneurs were saying. We don’t just want to gain access to networks as many studies have shown. We want to build and develop tribes that can support us. A network isn’t enough if the people you are trying to connect with don’t believe in you or what you’re doing.
“Stop comparing yourself to elephants when you’re a giraffe. It’s ok to be a giraffe. Surround yourself with other giraffes.”
Some of the realist. shit. I’ve. EVER. heard. I wish I would have had that advice as I was growing into my role as a leader and entrepreneur. I would have saved time chasing down people to believe in me. We’ve been socialized to try to fit into our environments on a daily basis. In the process of trying to fit in, we’re at risk of losing and forcing ourselves to be something we’re not. The reality is that you can find and build a tribe that supports you and your business without losing yourself in the process.
Here’s how you’re going to do it:
It took me a few years into building my last company to fully wrap my head around the people I should be spending my time and energy on in order to gain support in growing my business. Hours upon hours of outreach to investors and attendance at “networking” events would have been saved if I had clearly defined the types of folks that shared my interests. That’s it. Your tribe is merely people with shared interests that want to communicate with you.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.
Your tribe should not just be people that look like you, think like you, and do what you do. It’s easy to get caught in our comfort zone. I started looking for ways that I could expand my circle while identifying things that were preventing me from doing so that I could control. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone slowly but surely by doing something as simple as going to events by myself. I noticed that when I went with friends to events, they became a security blanket and I wouldn’t make meaningful connections with people outside of my circle. When I started going places by myself, I would set a goal for how many people I wanted to meet, which forced me to connect with people that I may have never connected with before. Sometimes the best people in your tribe are the people you never expected to be apart of it.
Add Value Without Expecting Anything in Return.
Every person that I interact with, I make a habit of asking “How Can I Help You?” There is no underlying motive. I find that I’m the most fulfilled when adding value to people. This urge became stronger while interviewing female entrepreneurs. My final interview question to every single woman was — “How Can I Help?” 100% of the reactions to that question were a combination of surprise, relief, and gratitude. Initially, I was surprised by the response but realized that we live in a culture that is focused only giving for something in return. I was reminded of this recently when someone reached out to me and said that their mantra is “What can I do for you and what can you do for me?” When I first read it, it rubbed me the wrong way. I reached out to a queen in my tribe and told her that it bothered me. She told me that it wasn’t surprising because our tribe gives without expectation. I honestly don’t fault this person for having this mantra. We’re all products of a culture that is focused on “giving but only if…”. I believe that output = input. When you focus on giving and stop living in scarcity, you’ll notice a major transformation not only in your relationships but in all areas of your life, including your business.
Identify what you don’t & WON’t stand for.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”. I agree. However, I think it’s just as important to identify what you don’t and WON’T stand for. Someone recently told me that you get what you tolerate. I think it’s easy to find yourself unexpectedly aligned with something that you may not have stood for because you have never drawn a hard line in the sand. By explicitly saying I don’t and won’t stand for something, you’re being intentional about the people you’re attracting into your tribe. Your tribe should be a group of people with shared values. Your tribe should be a group of people that can think and do for themselves but they should also have values that align with yours so you can support each other in moving in the right direction rather than being met with resistance.
A good friend and someone I consider my “soul-prenuer”, told me that I was one of the first entrepreneurs that was willing to be vulnerable about the struggles I encountered when building my company, especially during the rawest moments, like the time we almost closed the doors. Entrepreneurship is lonely and founders have the habit of isolating ourselves when things aren’t going “according to plan” because we’re busy chasing a solution. This is a surefire way to fail fast without a way to come back from it. Your tribe should be the ones that you can have candid conversations and give you that real talk in return. They are your support network. Initially, it is scary to say out loud that you don’t have all of the answers when your company requires that you have them. However, once you start getting real with your tribe, I guarantee you’ll feel human, feel supported, and potentially gain the solutions you need or at least a starting point to getting there. All it requires is finding the right tribe and allowing yourself to be supported.
Nurture Your Nest.
Have you ever been in any successful relationship that sustained without nurturing it? I didn’t think so. Tribes work the same way. You can’t expect your tribe to have your back when you’re always absent. You have to show up. I’m specifically shouting at myself while writing this because I am not the best (but working on it) with correspondence outside of business. However, your tribe isn’t there to support your business. Your tribe is there to support you so you’re energized and have the right resources to support your business. Your tribe can be family, friends, advisors, mentors, colleagues, peers, etc., who all have different roles within your tribe. If that means scheduling time on your calendar to reminding you to check-in or having a group chat with your family (even though the notifications give you anxiety from time to time) do it! Once you come out of your hole and re-connect with your tribe, you’ll feel human again.
As you’re finding and building your tribe, I would encourage you to do as a Elena says, be ok with who you are, what you stand for, and go out and find other giraffes so you can be supported in the way you should be.