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.
Today I teach business professionals how to find, develop, and nurture the kind of “power connections” that will help them succeed—but these same skills are even more vital at the beginning of your career. As you enter your profession or career, you must be intelligent about building good, solid connections with others right from the start. In this article I want to share what I call Power Connecting 101: The Four Key Beliefs of Successful Connectors and the Five Pitfalls to Avoid. (This information is drawn from my book, How to Be a Power Connector.)
The Four Key Beliefs of Successful Connectors
#1: All business relationships are relationships first. As InfusionSoft CEO Clate Mask says, “I’m not interested in developing ‘business relationships’; I want to create relationships on a deeper level.” Relationships are about building connections with others who feel you have their best interests at heart, and vice versa. You must enter into every business relationship seeking to get to know the other person and, if possible, help them out.
#2: Relationships are about giving and receiving value.In all relationships—with your local mailman, your favorite professor, your little sister, your mother, and even with a stranger you interact with in a grocery store—you are giving and receiving value constantly. Power connecting is based upon consistently adding value to other people, and receiving their assistance in return.
#3: Relationships must be authentic on both sides. People must know you, like you, and trust you before they will do business with you, and for that to happen, you must be authentic, honest, and trustworthy. The people you bring into your network must have the same qualities. Your network is your most prized possession; make sure it’s composed of only the best individuals. Be on the lookout for bad actors and unreliable people. Measure the value of your contacts not by their net worth but by whether they have a good head, heart, and gut.
#4: To be successful, your network must be wide, deep, and robust. It’s sometimes tempting to seek out only people who are like us, or who are in the same profession, for our network. But the true power of business relationships often comes from connecting people from diverse and divergent spheres with each other. Successful people have relationships in finance, media, politics, and their communities, as well as in their industries and families. This gives them access to information and opportunities they would never have otherwise.
With these four beliefs, you can start to build a strong, powerful network even before you enter the workforce. However, you also must conscientiously avoid five pitfalls that will diminish your relationship-building efforts.
The Five Pitfalls of the Inefficient Connector
#1: Networking in the wrong places for what they need. Networking will help only if you are searching for the people in the right places. Your favorite nightclub, coffee shop or gym may not be locations where the people you need to meet are hanging out. On the other hand, the alumni association or an upcoming tech conference might give you access to the person who will give you your next job or important contact.
#2: Networking at the wrong level for their goals. Instead of connecting with individuals and organizations that can provide the high-level support, direction, and connections they need, most people spend too much time with those at their own level of knowledge and skill, or lower. Your friends are great for support, but you need to reach “up and out” to make contact with people who can guide, mentor, and open doors for you.
#3: Not assessing the relative value of their connections. College students and recent grads have the constant urge to connect with others via social media or through numerous social events. But the truth is, there are only so many hours in the day and so much time in our lives to effectively maintain relationships. (Social science research states that we can effectively keep track of only around 150 people at a time.) You have to appreciate the value of every connection while determining exactly what assistance that connection brings to you and what assistance you can give in return.
#4: Not using a system to optimize their networking efforts. Handing out thousands of business cards or resumes probably won’t get you the job of your dreams. Meeting lots of useful people and then not having the courage or taking the time to follow up professionally won’t accelerate your plans either. You must systematically connect and then build relationships over time. I have developed a 5+50+100 system that ensures strong and vital relationships with the 150 people that will make the biggest difference in your life and career.
#5: Failing to create high-value, long-term connections. The key isn’t the number of contacts you make: it’s the number of contacts that turn into long-lasting connections. Relationships can’t be built overnight. You must commit to helping others consistently, adding value appropriately, and connecting them with other people who may help them out as well. The strongest relationships are based upon consistent added value.
The right network doesn’t have to be inherited. You don’t have to attend a prestigious university, or have your family endow a new library addition. Your uncle or family friends doesn’t have to run a Fortune 500 company for you to be able to find and build strong connections with people who could help you with your life and business goals. All it takes is a few, simple skills, learned well and applied consistently, to create the kind of power connections that will accelerate your success.