Building a strong network can be quite an art, one that is often built over years of trial and error, largely resulting in learning through many mistakes.
There are, however, an abundance of opportunities to garner help, connections and support from many of the people around you or that you have the chance to casually meet. You just need to open your eyes and learn to step outside your comfort zone to take advantage of these opportunities.
Here’s the deal: You have absolutely no idea who the person that you just met and are casually talking to knows or to where their experiences may lead to.
For example, I recently had a casual breakfast with a friend that brought another friend along that happened to live near me. There wasn’t a real purpose or premise for the breakfast aside from we live close by and should just know each other.
Shut up and listen. It turns out, after an hour or so of listening -- note that I didn’t say talking -- I learned he’s been outrageously successful, having built and sold multiple behemoth companies. He's effectively taken over three struggling public companies as the CEO and completely turned them around, making them super profitable.
I had no idea prior to having breakfast with him. Who do you think he knows or is connected to, aside from everyone you could imagine?
It’s a good idea to treat everyone that you meet as if they’re the most important person ever. Yes, there are major social benefits to this mentality, but remember that you only get one chance at a first impression.
Look local. Whether you’re building a new business or working inside one that is already moving along, you have no idea how many people you are connected to through people that you see and interact with constantly, largely because they’re casual interactions.
Are you in medical sales and trying to land that top doctor? I bet one of your neighbors knows him or her personally and you have no idea because you’ve never cultivated the relationship or, even more simply, just asked.
I’m not suggesting that you go door to door through your neighborhood and pester your neighbors for their contacts, but spend the time to better know those that you see and interact with regularly. If you have a solid relationship with them, don’t be afraid to ask for help or connections. Good people have a natural tendency to want to help other good people.
Garner respect. It’s also important to reiterate that you can’t ask someone for help or a connection that you don’t have a relationship with. Well, let me rephrase that -- you can but it won’t work and you’ll permanently burn that bridge. It’s really one of the most common mistakes new networkers make.
You must build trust and connection with the person first, because you need them to want to help you and trust that you’re not going to embarrass them when they introduce you to someone.
If you are, however, focused on creating real relationships that are built on respect and have the potential to benefit both parties -- even if that’s just enjoying the interaction or from helping you -- you’ll be amazed at where your relationships can take you.
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