Network, network, network. It's advice nearly every businessperson has received or given at some point. Entrepreneurs and leaders must know how to use the resources around them to grow their own business and make something great. Whether tapping into the expertise of others or just learning from their mistakes, leaders must thoughtfully and purposefully develop a strong network. You get out of your network what you put it, so leaders must also be sure to share as much knowledge as they receive.
YPO member Amber Strang is developing a company built on the strength of her network. Friend and fellow YPO member Clint Greenleaf founded Bambino Balls in 2007 as line of baby sports-themed attire. Strang purchased it from him and renamed it Bambino Sport to open it to a wider audience with a greater variety of sports. From import/export tax planning to supply chain management to retail space, Strang has engaged her network at every stage. It's a strategy that paid off as a corporate executive at commercial real estate companies like Cushman & Wakefield and Transwestern, and it's been fundamental to her new endeavor.
Strang is building on her history of cultivating great businesses to now grow her own. Here is her advice on how to get the most out of your network:
1. Talk to people!
In life, there are constantly opportunities to continue to grow your network. Strang's YPO network has been invaluable in launching Bambino Sport, but she never misses an opportunity to expand her network even more. "Everywhere I go, I engage with the person in the seat next to me, on the airplane, or in line at the coffee shop," she says. "Just the other day at a cocktail party, I met a man who runs adventure sports and activities for luxury resorts, and he immediately offered to help get Bambino Sport's golf and tennis lines into all their pro shops." No matter how big your network, there's always room for more.
2. Hire brilliance.
Great leaders know they need to hire people smarter and better than they are. Strang explains, "Early in my career, I learned you always want to be dumbest person in the room. I know that sounds odd, but if you're surrounded by brilliant individuals, you're setting yourself up for success. If you're the smartest person in the room, you've got a problem." Strang advocates hiring smart people who specialize in a specific area where you need expertise. She says, "I could spend months trying to learn things like customs and tariffs and how to get goods shipped through the Port of Los Angeles into my customers' hands. Or I could hire someone whose entire business is devoted to that who I know can do the job right." Make sure you learn as much from them as you can.
3. Get preparation advice.
The speed of business is often breakneck, and Strang has found preparation is key to success. "Find people in your network with relevant experience, and ask their advice on how to prepare for the huge number of decisions you'll have to made." Maybe there's an angle you didn't consider, or a trap to avoid. "Doing this homework will help you to make decisions swiftly and with conviction when the time comes," she says. It's the only way to keep up with the pace. She goes on: "Don't dither and second-guess yourself." If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. There's too much to do to waste time on indecision or regret.
4. Build a Kitchen Cabinet.
A Kitchen Cabinet is distinctly different from a board of directors or the rest of your professional network. It's a trusted circle of friends, mentors, and peers who you can be vulnerable with, vent to, and ask for advice on business challenges. "You don't want yes men," Strang warns. "Choose people who are sympathetic but also brutally honest and candid." This is your war council, so fill it with "people who will take your call night or day about problems big or small," she says. These are the people who care enough about you to tell you the truth.
5. Give freely.
It's easy for executives to get so focused on achieving results that they neglect to give back. Strang says this is a mistake. "It's critical to feed and nurture your professional network, and also your community, church, and other organizations that are important to you," she says. Remember what your network has done for you, and make sure to pay it forward. "Make it a priority to help someone else, even with something as simple as making an introduction, or sharing the name of the agency that built your website or made your logo. Good goes around!" Your karma, and your business, will thank you.
Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.