Every successful business is built on relationships. That old cliché, "It's not what you know, it's whom you know"--is perfectly true.
Just ask Josh Hartwell, who started Mobile Deluxe in 2003 and built it into a force in the mobile gaming world. The company's flagship game, Solitaire Deluxe, has been downloaded more than six million times, and counting.
How did Hartwell launch a successful mobile gaming company--with no outside funding--five years before Apple opened the App Store? Before he launched, he used his connections to get a commitment from the then-largest game publisher.
He made those connections by becoming a master relationship builder. Here's how it's done:
1. Never miss a chance to widen your circles.
"When you're starting out, the best approach is to do a great job, but don't limit your interests to what you're doing," Hartwell advises. "Every relationship should help form concentric circles around you and further help you expand beyond your comfort zone."
If you're working in a company, that means going beyond your particular department or expertise to meet people in other areas and with other types of jobs, and find out what they do and what's important to them. Make sure to attend industry events, workshops, and luncheons whenever you can, and introduce yourself to strangers. "Push yourself beyond the people on your immediate left and right," Hartwell says.
2. Treat every relationship like it matters--because it does.
That means not only customers and bosses but also the people who work for you and the people who are trying to sell you something or are asking for your help. "People who are your peers or may be reporting to you today will rise through the ranks and may become decision makers at other companies," Hartwell notes.
Besides, to be a master relationship builder, it's important to give as well as get. "You can't look for reciprocity in every relationship," he says. "Sometimes when you reach out, you're not going to get a reply." It's important not to take that personally and just as important to make relationships more reciprocal when someone reaches out to you.
3. Build relationships with as many different types of people as you can.
Learn this skill as fast and as early in your career as possible, Hartwell says. "In games, system developers are different from programmers, who are different from artists, who are different from marketing people, and within those groups people are very different. Make it a practice early on not to just focus on the people with whom you're comfortable. Find out about other types of people and how to have relationships with them."
This skill will enable you to deal effectively with companies that have many different types of people in them, he says. It will also help you create a stronger, more diverse company of your own.
4. Be persistent--but not too persistent.
"Relationship gauging" is Hartwell's term for finding that delicate balance between being effectively persistent and obnoxiously pushy. The best way to tell if you've gone too far is by watching someone's body language when you meet in person. Early on, he says, some people he had contacted too often made it clear from their reactions on first meeting him that they were already displeased. "That helps you figure out where the line is," he says now.
On the other hand, it's important to follow up a first contact attempt. "You're not being persistent enough if you get no reply and don't follow up," he says. "Don't ever assume one message to a person is enough, and there are not many cases where two is too many." Past that, it depends on the person and on how long you wait between follow-ups, he says.
Another approach he recommends is to use social media, for instance by sending a connection request on LinkedIn or liking something on Facebook, or following the person on Twitter. "You can also comment on people's posts and get some attention that way," he says. "You don't want to overdo that, either. But you do have many alternatives besides sending email after email."