When we see an incredible success story, many of us entertain the notion of a lone entrepreneur, hustling day and night to bring his or her dream to life. But that rarely happens.
Mark Zuckerberg is the epitome of that lone-entrepreneur archetype: a college dropout and technology disrupter. What few people realize, though, is that Zuck had many mentors along the way, including Steve Jobs. In fact, Zuck credits Jobs with teaching him about building strong teams and keeping the company focused. Undoubtedly, that connection helped Zuck turn Facebook into what it is today.
The reality is that the more influencers you know, the better your chances of realizing greater success. Successful entrepreneurs strategically use their networks to their advantage.
Fortunately, it's now possible to build a network of influential connections from the ground up. Thanks to resources like email, social media, and networking conferences, becoming a well-connected entrepreneuris more possible today than ever before.
But how do you create and sustain those valuable connections?
To build and maintain your status as a well-connected person, consider adopting the following everyday habits:
1. Have substantive conversations. Don't just say hi. Reach out to have substantive, meaningful conversations with influencers. Have conversations that are valuable and that matter to both parties. The medium doesn't matter--phone, lunch, coffee, social media--just keep it real.
It also helps to be brave enough to get to know the right people. When I worked at Apple, then-CEO John Sculley would sit at an open table in the various company cafeterias to make himself available to staff. Most people were too nervous to approach him, but I wasn't. We developed a collegial relationship, which later helped me land a spot among 100 or so employees chosen to enter a coveted MBA program paid for by the company.
2. Always seek to add value. I once booked Jerry Seinfeld to perform at an event for Cisco employees at John Chambers's request. Jerry and I chatted in the green room when he arrived; knowing my past experience with Apple, he asked me to assist him with getting a meeting set up with Steve Jobs.Because of my connection to Steve, I was able to facilitate a relationship between them and add value to the lives of two of the most influential men of our times.
But you don't have to be a celebrity wrangler to add value. Do you have ideas that will help an influencer's business? Do you know of a connection that could help him or her move forward? Always look for ways to make the lives of colleagues and clients easier or more effective or impactful. This will create and reinforce trust between you, and they'll always be happy to hear from you, knowing that you have their back.
3. Attend relevant industry events. We all reach a point where we might think we can start skipping events, but that's not a great strategy. Continue to actively attend industry events to network and engage with established colleagues, peers, and clients and to meet and develop relationships with new ones.
Industry events make it easier to stay abreast of trends, catch up with a lot of people at once, and provide reciprocal leverage for participants. The key thing to remember: Don't get lazy. It takes less than a second for someone to form an opinion of you, so prepare ahead of time to boost your self-confidence--and don't wait to be approached!
4. Take engagement seriously. Speaking of not getting lazy, don't treat your connections lightly. Leverage technology to keep in touch so you don't end up losing a connection that could prove valuable down the road.
As you publish newsletters, articles, and books, make sure those in your network are aware of them to stay in touch and top of mind, and provide more value to them at the same time. Contactually is a great software program that manages your contacts and mines them like a tickler file to periodically remind you that it's time to get in touch with certain people. Tools like this make it easier than ever to keep up with your network.
There's a good chance your next career move, business, or partner will come from your connections and referrals. More than capital, a strong network is one of the greatest assets you can have in business. Make sure to cultivate those bonds by adopting these habits.