Many entrepreneurs know that networking may make it or break it for their business. They read books, online guides, and attend professional seminars in order to improve their relation-building skills. They spend significant amounts of time and money attending conferences, meet-ups, and industry events in order to meet new people. Then, they leverage these contacts to get introduced to even more people…
What these business owners and entrepreneurs often don’t put into consideration is the second part of the equation. Networking is not only about becoming acquainted with new people, it’s also about the nature of relationship you keep with them.
Weak Networks VS. Strong Networks
Before approaching anyone from your list of contacts, try assume the level of relationship you have with him using these 4 simple questions:
- Are you in friendly terms with this person?
- Did you assist this person with his business in the past?
- Does this person knows you well enough to think highly of you?
- Was this person introduced to you by someone he looks up to?
If the answer to all 4 questions is negative, you may consider him as a “weak connection”. That person will not be keen to assist you. He might do simple/easy things for you, just from the kindness of his heart, like introducing you to someone, but the value to that is limited anyhow.
You can forget about him going above and beyond for you. That person is not going to be the supporting you through the process. He is not going to share his industry insights with you. He will not be there to wholeheartedly recommend you to people you want to engage in business with. Not for free, anyhow.
In contrast to that, when you have strong connections with some or all of your contacts, you know you will get all the support and help you need along the way. Some of them will do so for altruistic reasons, and some want to gain something from it, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re getting instant assistance whenever you bump into an obstacle.
How Connections Helped Me
As an entrepreneur who has established his company less than 1 year ago, I was in a position where I needed all the assistance I could get from my contacts. As I expected, knowing the nature of my relationships, they did not fail me.
From the get-go, when I was doing market researches in Fintech related sub-niches, I was receiving my most valuable feedback directly from my contacts. Fellow business owners who receive their payments in foreign currency told me how expensive exchanging currency in large volumes can be, and encouraged me to open an informational money transfer website. Contacts who are well-versed in the Fintech industry told me about the booming of the business lending market and pushed me to open a site reviewing these lending firms’ services. Without them, I could have been still pondering about where to begin. They showed me the way and pushed me into action.
It did not stop there. Not at all. It was only the beginning.
When I considered using external funding, my contacts were there to help me out. They gave invaluable input on whether should I seek for funding, how much should I ask for which cut, and some have even showed interest in investing themselves.
Then I needed some workforce and technological infrastructure to get going.I reused some old contacts who worked for me in the past to quickly build up my initial workforce.
For ALL other things I needed – from hosting companies, through domain registrars, designers, programmers, content writers, marketing experts and media contacts – I got references from my professional network. I hardly had to search for any of those myself – I only had to ask for recommendations and shortly afterward, my inbox was flooded.
Then I started having niche-specific questions my contacts could not answer. I shared my concerns with some of the people whom I trust, and within a week I was already introduced to key personnel in my niche, who were ultra-friendly, and addressed everything I needed to know.
I honestly don’t know how would have I managed without these connections to assist me in every step of the way of my first year as a full-time entrepreneur.
My 9 Golden Rules
These are my rules of thumb on this topic that helped me build my network. You can’t categorize them as networking rules per se, but they may help you with your network building as well.
Quality over quantity – I never forced myself into meeting new people in conferences nor filled up my social media accounts with people I hardly know. Instead, I always bothered to maintain old relationships.
If you need a new connections for whatever reason, focus on a selected number of individuals and try to engage with them. Do not try to pump up your contact list and try your luck with mass emails (which is the good ol’ Israeli way AKA “Shitat Matzliach“).
Friendliness – Being friendly with people makes a nicer work atmosphere, and will help pushing relationships into a friendly level. It doesn’t mean you will hang out with everyone you meet. It’s enough to have a few laughs in a meeting, or bother to ask your freelancer some personal questions, and you’re in a completely different relationship zone.
Loyalty and consistency – You can develop serious relations with someone only after you’ve been working together for a while. So moving rapidly between workplaces, positions or professions won’t allow that. Same goes for business owners who constantly hire and sack people, or change their suppliers too often.
Fairness – Nothing reflects more about your character than being dishonest. Being unfair with your either your bosses, the employees you manage or your co-workers is something that will chase you long after your current work endeavor.
Helpfulness – Relationship is a two-way street. If you’ll be as helpful as you can (within reason) to people who seek for your advice, they will treat you in the same manner when you need something from them.
Helpfulness is also a great way to open up a relationship with someone you fancy becoming acquainted with. Instead of bluntly approaching that person, invest time into learning his business and provide your insights.
Involvement – Be involved as you can in others’ businesses. Read about them, view their progress, be sure to congratulate them on positive advancement and let them know if you noticed anything negative. They will usually do the same for you.
Maintaining a passive approach – Avoid being too direct with your requests, as this may cause antagonism on the receiving end of the request. Instead, approach people explaining what you wish to achieve. If they choose to offer their help, you can gladly accept it, as you know they genuinely mean it.
Lack of paranoia – If you wish to receive assistance when it’s needed, and do so by making other people feeling involved with your business, you can’t afford to be paranoid. You can be careful and selective, but you are not going to be shared with interesting data unless you share yours.
Lack of greed – Providing free assistance can turn out to be more valuable than the monetary value you get from paid consultancy. If someone (that you value) needs just half an hour of friendly professional advice, don’t bother to charge him with anything. Instead, keep him as a strong contact in your network that you can approach whenever you need something.
Networking doesn’t necessarily mean chasing after people with your business card. It also doesn’t mean constantly adding people to your Linkedin profile.
Networking naturally exists in our work environments. It’s there with everyone we’re in contact with. Treat people respectfully and get to know them, and you will develop valuable relationships that are much more meaningful, valuable and durable than shallow-acquaintances.