We’ve all heard the cliche saying, “Your network is your net worth,” but it is a true statement.
The right connections in your network can provide valuable leverage, create new opportunities, and allow you to tap into knowledge and resources you wouldn’t otherwise have.
As entrepreneurs, our network is an important asset even in a booming economy, but it’s absolutely critical during times of economic uncertainty. This is a lesson that’s been demonstrated in profound ways throughout 2020, and one that’s certain to be repeated in 2021 with talk of new lockdowns, a looming real estate crisis, and record numbers of businesses closing their doors permanently.
This is why every entrepreneur needs to be more intentional in not just building a list of connections, but building a network of powerful, results-oriented relationships.
The key is to approach this task with a plan, rather than the haphazard game of chance that most people play.
Define your goals
It’s critical that we use our time and resources efficiently, so we need to focus on building a network of the right people.
While it may be tempting to think of our network as a simple mathematical equation where more = better, the reality is that we can only maintain relationships with a finite number of people, so we need to be selective.
Your approach should be to first determine your specific goals, and then identify who can best help you achieve those goals.
For example, instead of simply saying that you want your company to be the best, you need to define specific criteria. Maybe that’s based on revenue, size, or acquiring certain key clients. Better yet, maybe it’s based on a performance-based, customer-centric metric.
Robert Nickell, founder of the virtual assistant agency, Rocket Station, takes a hybrid approach.
His goals are based on a combination of company and customer-centric metrics.
We have been growing at an insane pace, and plan to go from over five hundred employees today to one thousand by the end of 2021. And of course, we have specific revenue goals tied to that as well. But these goals only matter to me and my team. The goals that matter to our customers are the ones that impact them directly.”
Because of that, Nickell says that the two most important goals for Rocket Station are to increase productivity and reduce costs for their clients. Armed with that information, he can now more effectively build the ideal network to achieve those goals.
Some of the types of people who might fit into that network could include:
Experts in business process, technology, automation, and efficiency
People in universities who may be able to provide a pipeline of qualified job candidates
Consultants and vendors to mid-sized companies who may be able to serve as a lead source
Once you’ve defined your goals, you can then follow this same strategy to identify the specific types of contacts to add to your network to help you achieve those goals. When you know exactly who you’re looking for, it becomes infinitely easier to find them by searching trade organizations, publications, and social media for people that meet your criteria.
Develop your process
Like anything else in life, building a network requires a solid process.
Sure, you can wing it at first, but as your network becomes larger, you need an effective process in place; otherwise, you’ll begin dropping the ball and working yourself to death.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach here, there are three key components that are required.
There are multiple ways we can connect with people—email, phone, social media, mail, and even face to face. Some methods may work better than others in certain industries or for certain people, but I believe it’s always best to use a combination of channels.
When I or someone on my team identify a person who may be a valuable asset to my network, we will reach out to them via phone and email, and connect with them on LinkedIn. We’ll then add them to our CRM with notes about the contact, our outreach efforts, and the outcome if any. We’ll also add reminders to follow up with them on a regular basis.
Creating the initial relationship is relatively easy. Building strong relationships from there, however, is hard work, so most people are terrible at it. That’s because most people don’t have a process for following up on a regular basis, and instead, only follow up when they need something. That’s not just ineffective—it’s also damaging to the relationship and limits future opportunities.
Just as with your initial outreach, it’s important to have a documented process to follow up with the people in your network, regularly, through a variety of channels.
While this may sound callous, we will occasionally need to prune some of the contacts in our network. Since we only have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, it’s important to regularly remove the people who no longer fit into our network.
Maybe they’ve retired or moved on to other opportunities, stopped bringing value to the relationship, or demonstrated a massive difference in core values or a lack of integrity.
You can generally prune your network on a yearly or quarterly basis.
Nurture your relationships
This is the most difficult part.
I touched briefly on this while discussing follow up earlier, but it’s such an important topic that it deserves its own section.
Simply following up, in and of itself, is virtually meaningless. We all get those generic copy and paste emails from salespeople saying something to the effect of “I just wanted to touch base and let you know I’m still here.”
Great. But so what?
Building real relationships requires you to actually care about people beyond just what they can do for you. You have to know what they’re trying to accomplish, the challenges they’re facing, and what they need help with.
That means you need to have real, meaningful conversations.
If you know their goals, take the initiative to connect them with people who can help them achieve those goals. If you don’t know their goals, find out what they are and go from there.
And don’t do this in a transactional way. It shouldn’t be “I did this for you, now what are you going to do for me?” You don’t need to keep score on a daily basis. That’s already covered when you prune your contacts on a yearly or quarterly basis.
When you approach your network from the perspective of consistently adding value, you’re accomplishing two things:
You’re adding more value to the world as a whole, and we all know that a rising tide lifts all boats—including yours.
You’re making yourself more valuable to the contacts in your network.
Nurturing your contacts in a way that adds real value is essential to building an effective network that helps you reach your goals.
As the famous quote from Zig Ziglar goes,
You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
We all achieve more when we work together. That’s why I believe we should all focus more on cooperation than competition.