As an entrepreneur (or aspiring one!), you constantly hear about the value of expanding your network. But the truth is, when it comes to business relationships, it’s not quantity that matters—it’s quality. Having memorable, substantial relationships with people who understand your business and can help you over time is the real key to networking success.
So, instead of forcing yourself to meet and greet as many new people as possible, spend your time focusing on a few strategic relationships. You can get all the inspiration, information, resources, and connections you need to move your business forward from five people in each of five strategic areas. Read on for how to build your 25-person power network.
People With Similar But More Established Businesses
Acknowledging that great businesses have come before you doesn’t make you any less smart or capable, and it doesn’t make your company any less successful. So don’t necessarily look at the established companies in your field as competition—instead, see them as your mentors! Learning what they’ve done well and what they wished they’d done differently can give you insight on what’s worked, plus help you avoid learning things the hard way. Don’t be shy here—pick a few of your role models, take them to lunch, and do a lot of listening.
5 Role Models
Businesses Who You Admire in Another Industry
It’s also important to get out of your own sandbox. It’s easy to be focused solely on your industry, but that really limits you from seeing the innovation and ingenuity that exists elsewhere. Smart entrepreneurship is all about transferrable learning. Think about other industries you find interesting and what they might teach you about your own business or customers. What about their tactics and techniques could be incorporated into your own shop? Pick five people you find fascinating in a wide variety of industries—and learn everything you can from them.
5 Thought Leaders
Smart People Who Make You Think Differently
Similarly, you should connect to people who help you broaden your perspective and see the world in a different light. These may be entrepreneurs, but they certainly don’t have to be—they can be anyone who asks the tough questions and doesn’t mind pushing the envelope once in a while. Make sure that a couple people in this group are those who you don’t automatically agree with. Few business strategies are automatically right or wrong, and people who challenge what you tend to think can be a great check and balance for your decisions.
People that Love Being in the Know
As an entrepreneur, you’ll spend much of your time thinking about the things that you don’t know—business strategy, technical details, resources, rules, you name it. Of course, all of that info is out there somewhere, but it still requires lots of time sifting through unvetted leads to find. Fortunately, some people pride themselves on being walking encyclopedias. Get to know them. Ask them questions often, and take them to coffee to pick their brain from time to time. (In return, be sure to share your resources and experiences, too.)
Your Entrepreneurial Pals
Perhaps most importantly, you need your posse: your confidantes who will cheer you on when things are great, and hear about the worst (with no judgment) when they’re not. After all, entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart, and only other entrepreneurs can truly understand the complex happiness/exhaustion relationship that comes with running a business. Make sure that you have people you can count on to help out when you need it most. (And make sure to reciprocate by lending an ear, hand, or shoulder when they need it, too.)
When you’re putting together this list, remember to have fun with it—these should be people you want to learn from and spend time with! Many slots will be filled by your friends and existing contacts, but don’t be afraid to think big. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are making it easier than ever to cultivate relationships with and get information from anyone, even VIPs. Reach out and ask—you might be surprised at who’s willing to help.
Photo courtesy of TEXPRINT.
TopicsEntrepreneurship , The Opportunity of Entrepreneurship by Adelaide Lancaster , Networking , Running a Business
Adelaide Lancaster is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker, and co-author of The Big Enough Company: Creating a business that works for you (Portfolio/Penguin). She is also the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a first-of-its-kind community, learning center, and co-working space for women entrepreneurs in New York City. She is also a contributor to The Huffington Post and writes The Big Enough Company blog for Forbes.com. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, daughter, and son. You can follow her on Twitter here and here and on Facebook too.More from this Author