In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the role that “connectors” play in social epidemics. According to Gladwell, connectors aren’t just people who know a lot of people; they’re people with a knack for making friends and acquaintances wherever they go.
When trying to get their new businesses off the ground, most entrepreneurs would love their startups to become social epidemics. To be successful, they have to play the part of the connector and form relationships with the right people who can help them spread their message.
Building your tribe of potential clients, partners and mentors can be tough if you’re not a natural networker, but it’s not impossible. Here are three of the most valuable takeaways I’ve learned about building more meaningful relationships:
1. Grow your social capital. Not just a buzzword, social capital is very real currency that can make your company stronger and even uncover new business opportunities. It’s all about whom you know, whom that person knows and whether that person is willing to help you.
Instead of asking what you can get from someone else, think about your connections and how you might be able to help them. This expands your network naturally so that when you want an introduction or need help, you know exactly whom to ask.
Consult your colleagues and connections who seem to know everyone. Scott Gerber, a “super connector” and founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, helped me when I needed strategic advice about scaling my business. He tapped into his network and increased my chances of speaking with someone whom I would never have connected with if I had reached out cold.
Although social capital isn’t a tangible resource, it still drives success. The wider your social reach is and the more people you help, the more power you’ve built behind your business.
2. Have a networking strategy. Networking is vital to your career, but you must have a strategy for doing it right. Think for a moment about how many hundreds of pitch emails someone like Mark Cuban receives each day from people who haven’t sold a single unit or raised any money.
Sometimes, it pays to swing for the fences. Other times, it’s a waste of your time and your connection’s time. Instead, always network with a plan and purpose.
Attend local meetups, startup competitions, hackathons, demo days and open investor pitch meetings to widen your network organically; sign up for alerts for this type of events in your area.
Then, consider with whom you should connect and why. Will this connection create introductions for you or your co-workers? Does he or she know about your industry? Does his or her expertise mesh well with yours? Creating the right strategic relationship is crucial.
3. Focus on making a few high-quality connections. People who network merely to collect business cards have completely missed the mark. You can’t meet 50 people at a three-day conference and expect to instantly have a network.
If you’re good at networking, you may come out of an event with 10 to 15 potential contacts with follow-up actions or appointments (and a purpose for each connection) already established. Some of the best-connected entrepreneurs don’t have the biggest networks or the highest number of connections on LinkedIn. Instead, they might work with smaller, tightly knit groups of connections.
Making a plan for each connection forces you to clarify what your needs are and decide who can help you the most. On the flip side, you’ll meet others that you can help with your resources or expertise. Make these connections a priority, too.
The next time you find yourself across the table from a peer, a seasoned entrepreneur or, better yet, a super connector, cherish that person’s time, knowledge and connections. Think about not only about what he or she can do for you, but also what you can do for him or her.
When you’ve learned all you can from your new connections, pay it forward with new entrepreneurs who need guidance or introductions. You’ll eventually cash in on your networking karma and jump-start the next phase of your entrepreneurial journey.