The people who are the most successful in the business world are not necessarily those who are the smartest or who have the best skill set in their field. Consider how many very intelligent software developers and engineers take salaried jobs that have no upside potential with large corporations. They know a lot more about the technical side of their business than their managers do, but they are making less than their managers. While having specialized knowledge can be helpful in business, the people who really do well are those who can make and maintain their business connections, know the right people, and understand how to leverage the skills and abilities of others. When you take the time to expand your business connections into a wide network of friends and contacts, you will be able to access the wisdom of other business leaders and approach opportunities for yourself that would otherwise be unavailable.
A Real Life Example
Consider the case of Brian Gramm, CEO of Peppermint Energy in Sioux Falls, SD. He freely admits that he has no technical or engineering background, but he was able to start a company that sells solar-powered generators and related products into remote areas of Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and other countries that do not have a reliable electric grid. While Gramm did not have a strong technical foundation, his strength was in his interpersonal communication skills. He had a wide network of connections in the business community from his previous business ventures.
When Gramm saw an opportunity to create portable solar-powered generators for the developing world, he used his business connections to find people that he could hire who had the necessary technical background. He had a friend who connected him to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, a state-wide economic development group in South Dakota, and that group then connected him to graduate-level engineering students at South Dakota State University. The engineering students were able to create a proof of concept of the technology. Gramm then leveraged that proof of concept into a successful KickStarter campaign in 2012, and has since gone on to raise venture capital funding. If Gramm had not taken the time to develop and maintain a network of friends in the business world, it is unlikely that he would have been able to connect with the right people he needed to help get his product off the ground.
How Do You Get Connected?
You might be thinking about your own business connections or lack thereof, and feeling out of the loop without a way in. Remember, every friendship and business acquaintanceship started with an initial meeting. Business relationships are not a, “have and have not” situation. If you do not have the business connections you would like, create them. A great first step is to strategically attend events where the types of people you want to meet will be. Ideally, you will know who will be attending any given event ahead of time if the event is listed on Facebook, EventBrite or Meetup.com.
Identify a few people attending an event that you would like to introduce yourself to and learn a little bit about their industry. Come up with three questions you would love to know about their business, but do not go into the event with prepared notes in-hand. These are conversations, not interviews. People generally love to talk about themselves and their businesses, so quit worrying and ask something open-ended to get your new acquaintance to start talking. After any given event, take the time to connect to the people that you met by finding them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook may also be appropriate in some situations. If they accept your invitation, you will regularly show up on their social feeds and they will be reminded of who you are on a regular basis.
Reaching Out Directly
If events are not your thing, you can also reach out to someone directly. Do not assume that people are automatically going to want to take the time to meet you for lunch or coffee just because you asked, especially if you are reaching out to someone who is a lot more successful than you are. You will need to give them a good reason upfront to agree to meet with you. To do this, find a way to provide value or insight into their business. Do not tell them you want to “pick their brain,” because this is equivalent to telling them upfront that the only reason you are meeting with them is so that you can get something from them. When you reach out to someone: show that you have something to contribute.
If you have a mutual friend or acquaintance, ask them to make an introduction on your behalf. If there is a gatekeeper involved such as a secretary who is not forwarding your calls, do whatever you can to befriend the secretary or call at a time when the secretary is not likely to be in the office. You should be persistent about your attempt to create a connection, but do not be annoying about it. Keep in mind that you can still do everything right and not get a chance to talk after several attempts to reach out to that person.
Below is an example of an email I might send out to someone I want to connect with:
My name is Matthew Paulson. I recently read your blog post about pricing strategies for software-as-a-service companies. You had some interesting points. I was wondering if you had ever considered offering a biennial payment option in addition to offering monthly and annual payments. I’ve personally had good luck with offering two-year subscriptions to my customers.
I’ll be in your city in a couple of weeks. If you have time, I’d love to get together and have coffee or lunch to connect and chat about business.
Let me know.
There are a few basic guidelines that you should always follow concerning business relationships:
- Act friendly and professionally. Do not be that person who only calls when they want something.
- Touch base with your connections regularly to see if you can help them or take time to connect for purely social reasons.
- Listen first. When you are having a conversation with a business contact, do more listening than talking. Do not be that person who cannot stop talking.
- Respond to email and voice mail in a timely manner. Do not be that person that other people have to chase down to get anything done.
- Do not brag about your business success all the time. If you have to tell people, “Look how great I am!” you are probably not that great.
- Be honest. Do not pretend to be more successful than you actually are. Real entrepreneurs will see right through this.
Networking in the World of Internet Business
There are some unique dynamics involved when networking in the world of Internet business, because the people who you should be networking with might be in another state or half way around the world. There are a number of online communities that have sprung up to address this problem, such as the 48 Days Member Community (www.48days.net), the Dynamite Circle (www.dynamitecircle.com), the Fastlane Forum (www.fastlaneforum.com), and the Silver Circle (www.silvercircle.com). You have the opportunity to chat with and learn from other Internet entrepreneurs through these communities. Many of these communities have in-person events that you can attend as well. I have reached out to a number of people through these types of online communities and have made some great business connections as well.
For example, I met a gentleman named Tim Bourquin who had a business in the financial reporting space through one of these networks. After we starting chatting, he told me he had launched an advertising network for financial websites like mine. I gave his new advertising network, After Offers, a try and it became a new revenue stream that generates $7,000 per month in revenue for my company. While you might not be able to get an in-person meeting with someone half-way across the world, you can certainly reach out and see if they would be willing to chat with you for half an hour on a Skype video chat. The connections you make could turn into partnerships and potential for increased revenue.
Finally, as you become knowledgeable as an entrepreneur in your field and are confident discussing the skills you have to offer, consider pitching yourself as a guest on podcasts for the industry that you are in. I have been a guest on a number of Internet business podcasts and have had a number of people reach out to me as a result. Examples include Entrepreneur on Fire, The Lifestyle Business Podcast, the Empire Flippers Podcast and the SuperFast Business Podcast.
- Identify local events for entrepreneurs that you can attend.
- Reach out to one new potential business contact every week.
- Join an online entrepreneur community.