How to Build Your Own Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Entrepreneurship is messy, but it would be a lot more messy for me if I did not intentionally operate my business in the midst of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that allows it (and me) to thrive. From very early in my business, I predicted that my personal life situation would not always be a bed of roses, and that my business would be adversely affected from time to time as a result.

How to Build EcoSystem

My prediction came true in many ways. Due to circumstances beyond my control, business has been both a great pleasure and a great struggle for me. What has saved both my sanity and my business (and sometimes my life, I think), is the fact that I built an entrepreneurial ecosystem in which my business, and I personally, can thrive together.

Wikipedia defines a ecosystem as

a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.

That is a pretty good definition of the ecosystem in which the Indie Business Network thrives. There are different components to my business, all thriving together in a single system. As I reflect on over 15 years leading IBN, I notice specific things I have done to create and sustain this entrepreneurial ecosystem. I want to share them with you so you can be empowered to create a similar ecosystem for yourself and your business.

1. Surround yourself with people who care about you no matter what

My close and extended family members, a few trusted girlfriends, and some members and clients who have become friends over the years are the people who care about me whether I have a business or not. IBN could disappear tomorrow, and these people would still be here for me. The first and best thing about life is also the first and thing part about business: people care about you personally, and are in your corner for the long haul.

Identify those people and hold them close and dear. You need people like that in your entrepreneurial ecosystem.

2. Protect your house

One of the great truths about business is that, when you find your stride and begin to grow and thrive, the wolves come out and try to destroy you. These wolves can take many forms: copycats and infringers, online trolls, hater and backbiters, or just people who want to see you fail because it will make them feel better about themselves.

Just as you must shield yourself personally from such people, you will also have to shield your business from such people. They will wreck your ecosystem. You must eliminate them however you can. That is sometimes easier said than done, depending on the circumstances. But if you want your entrepreneurial ecosystem to thrive in a way that allows you to also thrive, you have to figure protect it from the wolves. It's hard but necessary work.

3. Cross-pollenate

Just like a biological ecosystem contains a variety of different species, you should place people from different walks of life into your entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you make jewelry, don't just hang out with other jewelry makers.

Hang out with bakers and candlemakers and yoga instructors and baristas. Connect with painters and poets and virtual assistants and authors and coaches. If you don't keep things spicy and ever-changing, you will eventually become disenchanted and bored, and your ecosystem will follow. Things will never be dull in your ecosystem if you keep things fresh and exciting in this way.

4. Follow the flourishers

Don't hang around people who are not flourishing. I am not suggesting that you eliminate or ignore people in your life who are struggling or need help. That would be dreadful (even if it were possible). What I mean is to invest intentional and consistent time with other entrepreneurs who are flourishing and thriving.

Make it your business to be in the company of people who are striving for the next level of themselves, and who are constantly working to create products and services that not only make money but that also make a difference. Nourish your entrepreneurial ecosystem with a continuous supply of other flourishers, and you'll have never-ending sustenance.

You may never have used the term “ecosystem” to define your life as an entrepreneur, but that's really what it is. Whether or not it's a healthy ecosystem depends on what you allow to take place inside of it. Are the wolves outside the door or are the on the inside devouring everything positive? Is there no diversity in your entrepreneurial ecosystem, so that everything is kind of plain and vanilla? Who are you keeping company with, the flourishers or the people who always seem to bring the drama, the whining and endless venting about one problem or another?

Take an objective look at your entrepreneurial ecosystem. Assess what you see, and if any changes need to be made, now is the time.


What does your entrepreneurial ecosystem look like? How can you begin to improve on it? Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.