Along with hard work, discipline and the right daily habits, there's something else which is essential for getting ahead in business and life: relationships. It's because the people who know you and appreciate your talents and expertise are the individuals who may become your mentors, clients, investors, partners or employees. But making and keeping connections with smart and influential people takes time and intention. That's according to Joe Polish, founder of the marketing and business groups Genius Network and GeniusX and someone who has worked with business leaders including Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and Tim Ferriss. Here are several things he says you need to do if networking is a skill you want to get better at.

Focus on how you can help others

Connecting with people isn't going to happen on its own. You need to expend time, effort and at times, your money. And you need to do it without expecting anything in return. Polish credits this mindset with him now having a relationship with Richard Branson, a connection which has existed since Polish invested more than $250,000 into the non-profit foundation Virgin Unite, something he wanted to do regardless of whether or not anything came of it. "Life is not based on a quid-pro-quo relationship," he says. "You're not owed anything, but if you do get something, it's a byproduct of the value that you created first."

Get as close to in-person as possible

Technology has its place and electronic communications are certainly a way of making connections with people. But phone calls, video chats and in-person meetings are where real relationships are developed. This is an investment in time which does not happen overnight.

Demonstrate your appreciation for people by how you behave

Making people feel important is a big part of being in relationship with them. To do it, Polish suggests practicing "The Referability Habits," basic courtesies promoted by the entrepreneur coaching program Strategic Coach. They are:

  • Show up on time
  • Do what you say
  • Finish what you start
  • Say please and thank you

Regardless of your talent or intelligence, if you don't do those things, you won't be perceived as dependable, respectful or appreciative.

Always find a way to be useful, grateful and valuable

Polish transformed an unprofitable carpet cleaning business in the early 90s into a million-dollar training organization by reading books, newsletters and taking seminars and business courses to figure out how to succeed in business. He then used what he learned to advise others in the carpet cleaning and restoration industry and became a best-selling marketing program publisher, today doing consulting and hosting events featuring big names including Daymond John, Peter Diamandis, Tim Ferriss, Arianna Huffington, Tony Robbins, Richard Branson, Steve Forbes and John Mackey.

What have you learned which could help others not make the same mistakes you did? What skills do you have which you could employ to help someone else get ahead?

Be memorable and fun

"Don't be too formal and don't take yourself too seriously," he says. "If you're sitting across the table from someone and they crack a joke and you can't laugh with them, why would they want to hang out with you?"