Launching and growing a business is hard. You need all the help you can get. Over my years in CEO roles at Priceline.com, uBid.com, Competitive Technologies, and others, I learned to build a rapport with a large network of people.
There are a lot of people out there who can help you, but they won't just ring the doorbell. You need to find those relationships, and then cultivate and nourish them, to keep them alive and healthy. It's like a giant game of connect-the-dots. When you are trying to go from point A to point D in business (for example, expanding into new markets or geographies), there are often people who will act as bridges from point B to point C, saving you valuable time and money.
Here are several tips to help you effectively expand your business network. Practice them and your network will act like a team of extra employees.
1. Identify people who could help you and your company.
Make a list of potential relationships you'd like to forge, either by individual's names, or by companies and positions. You can't pursue your targets until you know who and what they are. They may already be existing relationships you have, but you need to write down next to each name precisely what you think the person can do to help your business.
2. Contact these people on a regular basis, and stay in touch with them.
The most important part of this regular communication is to make sure you are acutely aware of their needs, not just yours. Helping important people achieve their goals makes you far more valuable to them. Ask them what they are trying to accomplish and how you can help. And then do it when you can.
3. Find ways to give back to them.
Make a list of the interests of the people on your go-to list. Discuss those interests when you reach out in step No. 2 above. And then let each individual know you remember and care about those interests. When you read an interesting, relevant article, send it to the appropriate contact. When you meet a smart person in that field, make an introduction. When you hear about an informative evant, invite the interested person to attend. Provide a value to your contacts, if you expect to receive it in return.
4. Acknowledge them in your social media.
Discuss their work, congratulate their accomplishments, and keep them in your discussions. Show them that you are not only aware of the importance of their work, but that you follow it and celebrate it. Don't expect them to care about you and your work if you don't do the same in return. Just go first.
5. Schedule a time in your calendar to think about and research each contact.
Once you make this relationship list, it needs maintenance and updating. Set a periodic time to review the list, update it, and think again about how these people can help you and how you can help them. Your needs have changed and so have theirs.
6. Make them feel 10 feet tall from time to time.
Send out handwritten notes. Or fruit baskets. Make sure the people in your network know that you appreciate them and recognize their importance in your life. A little gratitude goes a long way.
Many of the most important introductions and new business leads in my career came from people in my network. Seed and water yours, and watch it grow.