Every business person knows the value of a powerful network. It can provide anything you need, from the funding for your startup to the customers you have been wanting to meet. Unfortunately, most people have been fooled into thinking that in order to have an exceptional network, they must go to a prestigious business school like Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, Kellogg or Wharton.
I would never argue against a good education, but if your justification for going to business school is to build a network, I'm not sure it's the best option. You are trading two years out of the workforce and upwards of $218,436 in hopes of this network.
But I'll let you in on a little secret, networking doesn't require a MBA. I have never spent a day in business school. Yet, I have hosted over 900 of the most influential people in the world at the Influencers Dinner, a private dining experience and network of renowned business executives, scientists, Olympians, award-winning actors, famous musicians and members of royalty.
Building a strong community may be more work than you are willing to dedicate. But those who are willing to put in the effort will develop long-lasting friendships and bonds that can change your life. If you think you are up for the challenge, this step-by-step guide can help you build your community.
You need to be clear on what your objectives are for the community. Ask yourself: What are the core values you are building it on? What is important to you? I care about creating friendships that will last a lifetime, so every activity run by The Influencers builds to that effect.
You need to build around your core values and skills. You might be an athlete who cares about fitness, an artist whose heart lies in creativity or an entrepreneur who loves solving big challenges. Whatever you create, pick the content that you are passionate about, or after a handful of events, it will become routine and boring.
2. Determine how you add value or stand out
Now that you know what is at your core, ask what will bring people together. Why will people come? What are you doing that is remarkable? Don't worry, this doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money. You can create extraordinary experiences at a very minimal price.
You like dinner? Great, a friend of mine runs a dinner for 16 people several times a month and it costs about $100, including food and drinks.
You prefer games? There is a popular underground games night in LA that tons of celebrities attend. Best part: it's BYOB.
Want to be active? Take a hike with some brilliant minds or participate in a scavenger hunt around the city.
Take your time to figure out how to create something that stands out. It took me a year to design The Influencers Dinner and about 10 dinners until we settled into a groove.
3. Invite the right people
Everybody wants to host well-known business people, entrepreneurs and celebrities. Before you start inviting these people, you need to get a few under your belt. You have to get the kinks out with people you know. As you build trust and a reputation, get previous attendees to invite their successful friends.
Keep a digital spreadsheet with potential invitees and past guests, so you can always track who has attended and who you want attending.
4. Iterate, iterate and iterate more
Some of the events will change and evolve over time. Every time you do it, intentionally change something in the format and see what works best. When hosting Salons for my book, The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure, I would make adjustments to future events based on feedback from previous ones. That might be in the way you invite people, it might be the food and drink served or even the music you play. The only way to improve is to test and test more.
5. Ensure continuity
To make sure it lasts the test of time, create opportunities to invite people back and connect with other participants. This gives your network something to look forward to and helps create relationships that last beyond one or two initial meetings.