Be honest: Do you ever brag about the size of your network?
I’m well aware that many social networks “rank” you more highly as the number of your connections increase. Certainly there are a lot of advisors telling you they have the “get rich quick” answer for building your business by increasing your email list or Facebook fans or Twitter followers.
Of course, when it comes to marketing your business or project, you want to have a lot of people you can reach through email or social media. But when you hit a certain number of contacts, social media connections, or entries in your digital Rolodex, you may only vaguely remember these people. In fact, you might never have had any real interaction with them at all.
Through the years I’ve brought a lot of promising young companies (primarily tech start-ups) to the attention of angel investors and VC funds, and one of the first questions I ask entrepreneurs is, “What’s your business plan?” Before they risk investing in a company, funders want to see a strong, concise, detailed description of exactly how and when the business will turn a profit.
My question to you is, do you have a business relationship plan—a strategy for developing the connections that will help you succeed?
I’ve been doing a lot more speeches this year, and occasionally I’ve woken up from what I consider a version of the “speaker’s nightmare.” Not the “standing in front of the audience in your underwear” or the “go out to speak and realize you’ve forgotten your notes and have no idea what you’re supposed to say” dream. In this version, I walk out with confidence, turn to the audience—and realize I’m in the wrong room.
Unfortunately, a lot of people experience the same problem in their networking efforts. They want to reach individuals that can be helpful to them and their businesses; they’d like to get to know leaders in their professions and communities. But they don’t have access to where those people congregate. In fact, they don’t know where to start looking in the first place. So they end up going to networking events where they shake hands with a lot of other businesspeople just like themselves—in other words, they’re in the wrong room for their goals.
You may already be aware of the power of a powerful network. People with the right connections hear about internships and job opportunities before anyone else does. Even in the toughest job market, they’re the ones who land the best positions in the most prestigious firms. The right connections can matter more than background, location, age, appearance, gender, or social status. People who have a wealth of quality connections can access the kinds of opportunities and resources that lead to greater success. The right connections are worth their weight in gold.
As an advisor to venture capitalists and tech start-ups, I’ve been developing strategic business connections for over 30 years. I’m known as the woman with the “titanium digital Rolodex”—but I started as a painfully shy social worker from a tiny town in Idaho. I had to learn how to build strong relationships with people in all walks of life.
A few years ago when founder of 30SecondMobile Elisa All went to a meeting of the Chicago Founders Circle (an invitation-only, peer-to-peer networking group for CEOs of emerging growth companies in the Chicago area), she was disappointed to see that there were only two other women in the room. Unfortunately, this is still a common experience: women who attend industry functions or local Chamber meetings often find themselves in the minority. And in fields such as technology, venture capital, and high-level funding—my areas of expertise—women business owners are even fewer.
As someone who has studied strategic business relationship creation for three decades, I believe that women need to develop greater expertise in creating what my friend, Kay Koplovitz (founder of USA Network), calls “human capital networks”—people with whom we can be very open and who will give us the best advice while we do the same for them. We must become power connectors: individuals who add value by putting the best people in touch with the best resources, with the goal of creating greater success for all concerned.
A few years ago I attended a private conference in New York where Esther Dyson, a prominent angel investor and philanthropist, was speaking. I had admired Esther for a long time and wanted to meet her. At at the end of the conference a long line of people lined up to talk with her. I knew that Esther specialized in energy investing, so when I got to the front of the line, I said hello, mentioned two energy deals that I knew about, told her I admired her passion for investing, gave her my card, and said, “It’s a pleasure to speak with you.” A few short sentences and I was done. That night I had a LinkedIn invitation from Esther with a request to stay in touch.
How many times have you wanted to create an instant connection with someone and set the stage for further contact? These skills, which are the basis of successful networking, are critical for any sales professional. After all, your contacts and connections are your most valuable assets. It’s people who have the answers, deals, money, access, power, and influence you need to get what you want. They buy what your business sells—or your whole business—and they do the favors that make your path to success easier. Like a “power grid,” relationships help get things done faster and more effectively
You may try to stay in touch with hundreds of clients, customers, and prospects—but can you really say that you have strong relationships with them? Social science shows us that the maximum number of relationships we can maintain at one time is around 150. Further studies of the gaming world and other online communities confirm that groups break apart when they exceed that size. That’s why I believe a truly powerful, connected network consists of around 150 people, organized in three concentric circles:
With an upper limit of 150 people in your network, selecting the right 150 people is key. That’s why power connectors are cordial to everyone while seeking to create a network that will make the biggest difference to their business. Three characteristics set a power connector’s network apart. First, it is wide. It reaches beyond a particular industry or community to include individuals from eight key ecosystems—webs of professional and personal connections, linked by common interests, shared knowledge, and access to opportunities unavailable to outsiders. In addition to the personal ecosystems of friends and family, interests and hobbies, and your career or profession, other key ecosystems include your industry, community, politics, finance, and media. How wide is your current circle of connections, and how many ecosystems does it contain? Networking succeeds best when you’re looking for help in all the right places.
Second, a power connector’s network is deep, with multiple contacts in each ecosystem at different levels of experience and expertise. Say you wished to persuade a local company to use you as a supplier. If you knew five or more of the company’s C-level executives from your community connections, do you think it would be easier to arrange a meeting with the company president? The real secret to a truly deep network, however, is to connect with key players in an ecosystem. The key players know each other, meet with each other, and do deals with each other. The places where those key players meet are the “rooms” you want to reach, and one of the best ways to do so is in places that have nothing to do with business. For example, early in my career I worked for the Idaho Office of Aging, but I volunteered for the finance committee of the local United Way. There I met several top executives from the biggest companies in the area—people I would never have had access to otherwise. Charities, community functions, industry conferences, and social settings are great places to get into the same rooms with key players.
A power connector’s network is only as good as the quality of the people in it, and the strength of the relationships between those individuals. That’s why power connectors approach building relationships in different ways. Here are four important strategies to help you build your own 5+50+100 network.
Here’s the great news for us introverts: most other people love to talk about themselves, and all we need to do is to give them the chance to do so—simply by saying hello, asking a good open-ended question, and then listening. When you take the focus off of you and really pay attention to the other person, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your nerves disappear.
While you’re walking, rather than staring at your phone or the ground, practice looking at the people walking by. Say hello to the person next to you in line or on the airplane. Ask the barista or the store clerk how they are doing, and watch them light up when someone actually treats him or her like a human being. Then take this a step further and say hello to people whom you might find intimidating—the boss, the president of the bank, a political official. You don’t have to initiate a conversation, just get used to keeping your focus on others.
Recently Susan Roane, author of How to Work a Room, contacted me when she heard about my forthcoming book on how to be a power connector. We had a great conversation in which she told me that the number one question people ask is, “I’m shy—how do I network?”
Most psychologists agree that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of people in the U.S. can be classified as introverts. I too used to be part of that group: growing up I was a tall, awkward girl who did her best to shrink into the background in every social situation. But there’s something interesting about many of us introverts: because we don’t talk a lot, we are often very observant. We watch what people do and how they interact.
Leaders of the venture capital and Crowdfunding community, as well as leading small business advocacy groups, met with law makers, regulators and policy officials to provide an in-depth review of preparations that the Crowdfunding and investment community have taken to prepare for the legalization of Equity-based Crowdfunding.
The latest from the guys who brought the framework for Crowdfund Investing to Washington, DC and lobbied for the change to the US Securities laws.
Dear Crowdfunding Followers,Since attending the White House on April 5th when President Obama signed our Crowdfund Investing bill into law we have been working nonstop, traveling all over the world, and watching this crazy idea of ours, ‘Web 3.0, where social networking meets seed financing to solve the funding voidfor our nation’s job-creators (aka Main Street small businesses and startups),’ go global.Here’s what we have been up to: