When we hear a success story from the business sector, we often picture a lone entrepreneur, working his way up the top, struggling day and night, all on his own. But that’s rarely the case. In fact, it’s almost never the case that someone makes it all the way out to the top without at least a few meaningful connections.
Kelli Richards, CEO of The All-Access Group and author of the best-selling e-book The Magic and Moxie of Apple: An Insider’s View, writes on Inc. about the importance of connections among successful people.
She gives the example of Mark Zuckerberg, whom she calls “the epitome of that lone-entrepreneur archetype: a college dropout and technology disrupter.” It is common knowledge, though, that Zuckerberg has had many mentors along the way, one of the most famous among them being Steve Jobs himself.
The truth of the matter is, we all learn from each other. Connections are paramount, not just in business, but in everyday life, for the sake of our growth as functional human beings in such a demanding society.
“Fortunately”, Richards says, “it’s now possible to build a network of influential connections from the ground up. Thanks to resources like email, social media, and networking conferences, becoming a well-connected entrepreneur more possible today than ever before.”
But the only thing as important as building connections is maintaining them. So she suggests four daily habits meant to ensure your status as a well-connected person, in which she incorporates her own experiences, which make her ideas all the more authentic:
1. Have substantive conversations. Don’t just say hi. Reach out to have substantive, meaningful conversations with influencers. Have conversations that are valuable and that matter to both parties. The medium doesn’t matter–phone, lunch, coffee, social media–just keep it real.
It also helps to be brave enough to get to know the right people. When I worked at Apple, then-CEO John Sculley would sit at an open table in the various company cafeterias to make himself available to staff. Most people were too nervous to approach him, but I wasn’t. We developed a collegial relationship, which later helped me land a spot among 100 or so employees chosen to enter a coveted MBA program paid for by the company.
2. Always seek to add value. I once booked Jerry Seinfeld to perform at an event for Cisco employees at John Chambers’s request. Jerry and I chatted in the green room when he arrived; knowing my past experience with Apple, he asked me to assist him with getting a meeting set up with Steve Jobs.Because of my connection to Steve, I was able to facilitate a relationship between them and add value to the lives of two of the most influential men of our times.
But you don’t have to be a celebrity wrangler to add value. Do you have ideas that will help an influencer’s business? Do you know of a connection that could help him or her move forward? Always look for ways to make the lives of colleagues and clients easier or more effective or impactful. This will create and reinforce trust between you, and they’ll always be happy to hear from you, knowing that you have their back.
3. Attend relevant industry events. We all reach a point where we might think we can start skipping events, but that’s not a great strategy. Continue to actively attend industry events to network and engage with established colleagues, peers, and clients and to meet and develop relationships with new ones.
Industry events make it easier to stay abreast of trends, catch up with a lot of people at once, and provide reciprocal leverage for participants. The key thing to remember: Don’t get lazy. It takes less than a second for someone to form an opinion of you, so prepare ahead of time to boost your self-confidence–and don’t wait to be approached!
4. Take engagement seriously. Speaking of not getting lazy, don’t treat your connections lightly. Leverage technology to keep in touch so you don’t end up losing a connection that could prove valuable down the road.
As you publish newsletters, articles, and books, make sure those in your network are aware of them to stay in touch and top of mind, and provide more value to them at the same time. Contactually is a great software program that manages your contacts and mines them like a tickler file to periodically remind you that it’s time to get in touch with certain people. Tools like this make it easier than ever to keep up with your network.
There’s a good chance your next career move, business, or partner will come from your connections and referrals. More than capital, a strong network is one of the greatest assets you can have in business. Make sure to cultivate those bonds by adopting these habits.