There are many factors that go into creating and growing a successful business; skill, talent, timing, and luck are among them. One, though, that is talked about often but not always practiced, is effective networking. Meeting, getting to know and eventually working with people of all types is always a worthwhile endeavor.
Think about it. Steve Jobs would not have likely been as successful without Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer provided a one-two punch at Microsoft. And the guys who ran Starbucks as a small coffee retailer on Pike Street in Seattle wouldn’t have become a household name around the world had they not been open to Howard Schultz’s proposals. In the early days, they weren’t.
So much can happen when you align yourself with the right people.
I learned this lesson firsthand and purely on my own when I was a very young man and working in the barn in my native Toronto. I would observe these folks, some of whom were captains of industry and others who were on their way to that level. I made it a point to get to know many of these patrons, learn what made them tick and slowly but surely become part of their circle.
Was it easy? No. Especially not in the beginning. But in a situation like that, when you know you want to someday achieve a level of success that’s comparable to what they’re enjoying now, you start to figure out ways to get to know them and learn how they accomplished what they did. In my case, I actually convinced some of them to go into business with me. That’s a gutsy move for a young entrepreneur, but for me it was do or die. By getting to know these people, then working with them, I started building my business portfolio and achieving my earliest successes.
All these years later, I tell new entrepreneurs to get to know people. Be open-minded to what you can learn from all kinds of people. Also, be genuine, but at the same time network like you mean it. Today’s new business contacts might become tomorrow’s partners, vendors, suppliers, referral sources, evangelists, or even mentors. And every one of those people is a potential contact for helping you achieve success.
Yes, it takes time to build what we used to call a thick Rolodex (today it’s a database), but believe me, it’s worth the time and effort. Go to networking meetings and happy hours. Become active in your local chamber of commerce and get yourself known among the businesspeople in your city or town. Check out local events like lectures and talks for the opportunity to meet other like-minded people. If there are prominent business leaders you’d like to meet but haven’t yet done so, call them or email them and invite them to lunch, or simply request a brief meeting to get to know them. There are myriad ways to expand your network, and the time to start doing this is now. That’s what I did, so I’m speaking from experience.
And this is important: do it strategically with a strong objective in mind. Don’t just give out business cards. Make good eye contact. Ask questions and listen. A good communicator listens much more than he or she talks. Really connect with these people.
Also, make it a point to follow up and stay in contact with everyone you meet. If you don’t hear from them, drop them an email every now and then. You might even ask some of them to be sounding boards for your ideas. People feel valued when you call upon them for their expertise, and who knows? You might even find a new investor or two along the way.
So pick up the phone or open a new email window and start connecting. You never know who might become your next collaborator, partner or supporter in success.
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