Expanding Your Business Network

April 4, 2020
Dwayne Walker

Building a strong network has simple foundations. Every person has a gift to give and receive, and every person has a problem that they need help to solve.

To build a strong business network you need to pinpoint the relationships you want to pursue and nurture. You have to push being shy aside to reach beyond just your family, friends, and job to build a deep and wide network of connections.

Then you take those connections and use a system for adding value to those contacts regularly.

Lastly, you have to strive to become the person who can help people reach a resource they would never know about and could never reach if it weren’t for you.

Most people network wrong. They are looking to connect in the wrong places and meeting the wrong people without a method of accessing the relative value of the connections they make. They fail to build a system that creates high-value, long-term connections.

This post will help you avoid the pitfalls of networking and show you how to become a networking giant because a quality network comes with status, credibility, power, access to resources, private information, new perspectives, high-quality opportunities, and new skills.

Your Network

One of the biggest problems that business people have is staying in close enough contact with their network. Start by simplifying your network. The optimal size of a network you should focus on is around 150 people. Let’s categorize it as such:

Top 5: The 5 people closest to you and you would trust with your life.

Top 50: The 50 most important relationships that represent significant value in your life and business.

Vital 100: The 100 people you want to keep in touch with.

These top 155 people should be authentic, trustworthy, respectful, caring, patient, listeners, intelligent, sociable, and connected.

Strive to build a network that is wide, deep, and robust. A wide network is one connected to many different industries, locations, interests, personalities, roles, and cultures. A deep network has multiple connections within each industry, location, interest, etc. where each person has an entire network of their own. A robust network is skillful in their field, responsive to your messages, and has similar values as the ones listed above but diverse in almost everything else.

Ecosystems for Success

An ecosystem is a web of professional and personal connections who are linked by common interest and who share knowledge and access unavailable to outsiders.

Your family is an ecosystem. Your business is an ecosystem. The entire world is made up of ecosystems of people. Tap into an ecosystem and you get exclusive access to knowledge, connections, resources, and opportunities.

We tend to focus on our fundamental ecosystems of family and friends, passions and interests, and your career. To build a robust network you have to expand your access to ecosystems like government and politics, finance, media, industry, and community.

Family and friends are important because they enrich your life more than any other ecosystem. Life is typically great if this ecosystem is strong regardless if you’re having problems in every other ecosystem. Not vice versa.

Joining your passion ecosystem makes you a more unique and interesting person. You will be able to find commonalities across the board for anyone you network within this ecosystem.

In your career ecosystem, build deep connections with individuals such as your suppliers, buyers, consultants, service providers, and even CEOs of competing companies. You will never know what professional opportunities will come from building these relationships.

Developing relationships with your local, state, and national governments will make your life easier. Volunteer for committees and commissions. Invite your local representative to industry functions. Every politician is interested in donors, supporters, campaign workers, and endorsements from the business community. If you can provide any of those then they will take your call.

Build relationships with the people who have access to money. Build these connections with bankers and investors by listening to them and figuring out where you can add value first.

Develop relationships with news personnel for online publications and local news. Most of them are constantly on the lookout for a good story and good sources; if you can provide both, it’s relatively easy to develop relationships within this ecosystem.

Lastly, you should create a map of your industry’s ecosystem to identify areas where you can create relationships. For example, at Sparketh, I can seek to build more connections with art teachers, principals, homeschool moms, homeschool bloggers, EdTech CEOs, artists, etc. You should follow thought leaders, writers, and bloggers in your industry on social media. Join organizations and keep up with industry news. Remember, the biggest key to your industry ecosystem is to be an active participant in it.

At one time, our friends were just strangers to us. What if, as we pass all of the “strangers” in our lives, we looked at these strangers as if they could be friends? — James A. Murphy

Prepare to Connect With People

Before you go into the battle of networking, you must prepare for war.

Start by analyzing your current network to determine which people you need to add to make your circles wider, deeper, and more robust.

To prepare, you start by being clear on what you have to offer and what you need. Make a list of all your professional and personal accomplishments, what organization they are associated with, and what ecosystem you have access to. This list can be filled with accomplishments from any moment in your entire life. Don’t leave anything out.

Then make an adjoining list of all the skills/knowledge you used/gained from those accomplishments along with your strengths being displayed by achieving it.

Next, make a separate list of your weaknesses and what you’d like to improve upon. Humbly acknowledge your weaknesses and grow from there.

Remember, you can gain skills and knowledge to cover your weaknesses by either acquiring it, hiring someone to do it, bartering with someone, or getting it done through a connection.

Then you evaluate your current network and place people from your contacts into your 155 circle. This step will take a while but it has a lot of benefits such as being aware of the number of connections you have and what patterns you can pick up on.

  1. List all of your connections including yourself.
  2. Divide them into personal, professional, or both.
  3. Rate each on a scale of 1 (close to you) to 5 (casual acquaintance).
  4. Indicate the context/ecosystem of the connection such as business, politics, charity, social friend, club, school, etc.
  5. Add a note where they all live.
  6. From this list, choose your Top 5, Key 50, and Vital 100. Include yourself at the top of the list and remember that this list doesn’t have to be full right now.
  7. List out the resources each of these people have including yourself.
  8. Rank each person’s level of influence within their ecosystem on a scale of 1 (full access) to 5 (low access).
  9. List out 5 of your professional goals for the next three months, six months, and one year.
  10. Separate each of your goals and put four categories underneath them: key people needed, key opportunities needed, key knowledge needed, key funding sources.
  11. For each category listed write the resources you currently have, the resources you need, and who potentially has access to them.
  12. Make a plan to reach out to those potential connections over the next few months. The best way to meet someone is through a mutual connection.

Connecting with People

When networking, focus on the quality of your relationships you gain instead of the quantity of people and always add value first. Every networking relationship is based on knowing you, liking you, and trusting you.

Getting someone to know you means that you need to develop a compelling way to introduce yourself and what you do. This will be called your “share” and we will discuss this later.

For people to like you, you must engage with them. Ask questions and listen to their answers. Provide value at that moment. Then do something to indicate you want to continue the relationship like exchanging business cards or social media profiles.

You build trust over time with every commitment that you keep, every phone or email call you return within 24 hours, every article you send, or favor you do.

Preparing Your Share, Value-Add, and Ask

Before you actually meet people you need to know who you are, what are you ready to give, and what are you looking for. This is also called your share, value-add, and ask.

Your share should be phrased in a way where people get a sense of who you are before you tell them about what you do. Tell them who you are, what you’re about, and what you’re interested in. Then include sentences about your businesses or profession that reflect your energy and passion about what you do. Make your description interesting and intriguing, even provocative. Remember it’s not a promotion of what you do but a story demonstrating your passion and energy for your business.

Your value-add can be your knowledge, or network, or even just your ability to listen and empathize. Keep this question in the back of your mind during the entire conversation: “How can I or any of my contacts help them?”. Try to act on the answer quickly!

Your ask isn’t specifically asking them for help. Instead, it is seeking out assistance no matter where the help comes from. Make sure that whatever you are asking for is appropriate for the stage of your relationship. Coming up with your ask in advance should help calm your nerves. I recommend that you start small. Often the best thing to do is ask for advice first. Ask, “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”. Make sure whatever you ask for is specific. Aim for the heart when you ask for anything. Whether or not people are able to fulfill your ask, express your gratitude and ask them to keep you in mind.

Meet, Connect, and Engage

Even though the best way to connect with someone is through a mutual connection, sometimes that isn’t possible and you have to meet people yourself. Typically, have a short window of time to connect with people.

Dress appropriately for your ask and look approachable. Smile whenever someone is within 15 feet of you and say hello if they are within 5 feet of you. Within the first three minutes of meeting them give a firm handshake, smile, get the other person’s name, and ask a question or give an appropriate compliment.

Be fully present and listen. Ask tons of questions about themselves, their business, family, and interests. Do your best to discover what you like about them.

Engage them further by finding something in common: a person, location, experience, or point of view. That’s the fastest way to get someone to like you immediately. Discover what’s important to them professionally and personally.

For people to open up about themselves, you have to open up too so talk about your hopes, goals, and struggles.

Ask yourself, “If I were in their shoes, what would I want and value? What help would I need?”. Give or add value immediately. There are many ways to do this such as with a contact, an introduction, an insight, advice, a favor, potential business, information (book or article you read), etc. A value-add is anything that saves time, saves money, saves someone’s sanity, eliminates stress, or brings more fun to someone’s life.

Only after you’ve added value should you talk about your own needs and wants. Mention your ask, but don’t “sell” it.

In a nutshell, never leave a meeting without asking these three questions, “How can I help you? What ideas do you have for me? What else do you know that I should talk to?”.

End the conversation with enough intrigue for a foundation for another meeting. Leave them wanting more.

In exchanging business cards say, “Wait a minute, let me give you my direct number,” and then write your number on the back of your card. When they give you their card hold it in both hands and look at it for a while in appreciation before you put it way. Ask them, “What’s the best way to reach you?”.

Great networking requires systems, not memory. Write everything down about the conversation that you can bring up in later interactions to make them feel special.

If at any moment in a conversation you feel like someone isn’t a good fit then smile and move on.

Assessment and Consolidation

Do something to reconnect with people within 24 hours of meeting them, evaluate the connection, place them within your 155 connections, and then deepen the relationship by continuing to add value.

Send a personalized message to them. Your message should include thanking them for meeting you, inviting them to stay connected, add value (a connection, article, etc.), and then tell them what you are working on so they will know how to help you.

If you don’t hear anything from them in a week then send a follow-up email. Remember to always sound warm, have a personal touch, and add value.

If you are reaching out to big movers and shakers in your industry then leave out the ask. Always be clear that you simply wish to reconnect, not to ask for a favor. Adding value consistently will move you to the top of their mind eventually.

Assess your new connections before adding them to your valuable list of 155 main contacts. Eliminate some people completely, stay in contact with people you aren't sure of yet, and continue to add value to people you are 100% sure about.

Connecting Deeper

Effectively connect the people in your network for your and their greater success. Start by nurturing your contacts regularly:

Top 5: The 5 people closest to you and you would trust with your life. Contact them at least once a day.

Top 50: The 50 most important relationships that represent significant value in your life and business. Add value to these people once a week.

Vital 100: The 100 people you want to keep in touch with. Add value to these people once a month.

Once a quarter add value to the rest of your network with updates on social media or a mass message about something general.

Engage in random acts of kindness. Be proactive in asking how you can help everyone. Even when you are reaching out to ask for help try to figure out a way to add value along with your request.

Before you add anyone to your contacts make sure you know what their strengths and goals are. Figure out what ecosystems they are heavily involved in. Try to learn who is in their network and what level of influence they have within their ecosystem.

Connecting deeper requires you to be a matchmaker between your connections. Connect across ecosystems that don’t typically connect. Try to anticipate people’s needs and connect them with someone before they even ask.

Lastly, try to find a value that benefits all the parties you are connecting.

Share your knowledge, contacts, articles, books, uncommon information on trends, access to money, key leaders, potential clients, referrals, and other key people. The more you help people, the more you will learn about their needs, problems, solutions, talents, strengths, and abilities, and the easier it will be to connect them with others who can help them attain their goals. And if you can’t find a resource in your power circles, undoubtedly one of your connections will be able to lead you to it.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” — African Proverb

Major takeaways:

Strive to build a network that is wide, deep, and robust.

Create a map of my industry’s ecosystem to identify areas where I should create relationships.

Always add value first.

The best way to meet someone is through a mutual connection.

Describe myself in an intriguing way that shows who I am and what I am interested in before I explain my business in an interesting way.

Ask for advice first.

Be specific when I ask for anything.

Seek out help regardless of where it comes from.

Never leave a meeting without asking these questions, “How can I help you? What ideas do you have for me? What else do you know that I should talk to? What’s the best way to reach you?”.

Write down everything about every business connection I meet.

Dwayne Walker’s notes and thoughts from the book How to Be a Power Connector by Judy Robinett

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