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It's Who You Know

Coincidental Meeting

The seeds of your six-degree network can grow in the most unlikely places. You might sit next to someone on an airplane, or be chatting with someone as you wait for an elevator, when business kismet strikes--so be sure to bring your game face with you wherever you go. "Every interaction with anybody counts because it reflects on your brand," says Alaina G. Levine, president of Quantum Success Solutions, a Tucson, Arizona, company that provides expertise on topics such as PR, personal branding and marketing.

Kaz Kihara always had his business idea in the back of his head. While working for a CPA firm in the late 1990s, he was attending night school and started chatting with one of his classmates. The two struck up a friendly rapport, and Kihara learned his classmate was the chief information officer for an $80-million company in the medical services industry. In 1999, when Kihara decided to start Premier Data Technology Inc., a Torrance, California, provider of IT services to small and midsize companies, this high-level executive hooked him up with a former colleague--who became one of Kihara's first and largest clients.

Keeping his six-degree network of contacts in mind at all times, Kihara regularly calls his contacts socially--not always with a specific business goal in mind, but to keep those lines of communication open. "While I'm driving in my car, I call my clients, friends, ex-employees, just to see how everything's going," says Kihara, 35.

And just like the experts suggest, he approaches contacts with ways of helping their businesses. Says Kihara, "I try not to do it too aggressively--I usually try to know the person or help that person in their business or personally. How can I help them so that they might want to help me out?"

There's one definite no-no of the six-degree system: Don't be too pushy or aggressive when pursuing your leads. And don't rush a connection too quickly, says Steve Harper, author of The Ripple Effect: Maximizing the Power of Relationships for Your Life and Business. "If person A can get you aligned with person B, but you don't have enough rapport built up with person A, you have a tendency to really burn a bridge," he says. "You [can] make people feel used and seedy in the process [by] leapfrogging them. It's really important to let everybody know that they're individually important in the process--and give the proper credit to person A for opening that door of opportunity." You can do that by following up with a thank you, he notes.

Ever appreciative of his business relationships, Kihara's company grew to a second location in Las Vegas in May thanks to six-degree networking. He is currently establishing and building relationships in Asia with hopes of bringing his services to the Japanese market, which will likely push sales past the 2005 projections of more than $2.4 million.

Proactive Network
Consider the biblical adage "seek, and ye shall find" when it comes to six-degree networking. As Ferrazzi notes, you have to be proactive when employing this approach during startup. First, you must decide exactly what type of startup help you need: Are you looking for someone to help finance your business? A mentor to teach you about your industry? A source of great employees? "Once you identify what you want to achieve, you can specifically target the individuals you need to associate with to achieve [your] goals," says Ferrazzi. "Some are going to be prospective clients, community leaders, influencers, etc."

That kind of preparation is precisely what helped Cindy Page build her Blockhead Bath line of bath and body products. When she launched her company in 2002, she needed help determining her company name in addition to general information about the bath and body industry. A former assistant buyer for Filene's, Page knew a vendor who referred her to a friend who worked in marketing for a large bath and body manufacturer--and she was able to glean a lot of industry knowledge from that contact. "When I talked to that person, I really made sure I had a goal in mind and the kinds of questions I wanted to ask [all prepared]," says Page, 35. "I made sure I did my homework."

Do your homework, and don't be afraid to ask politely for what you need. But, Ferrazzi cautions: "You've got to make sure the intimacy you have with them is commensurate with the request." There's a fine line between being proactive and being aggressive, but experts agree that many people are willing to help if you approach them in a positive, "what can I do for you" kind of way.

It's really just being brave enough to open your mouth about your business. Says Page, "I tapped into every friend, every trusted colleague, every business associate." A friend of a former co-worker, for instance, was organizing a Ronald McDonald House fund-raising event; thanks to that connection, the organizer tapped Blockhead Bath to donate to the silent auction-a social coup and a brand boost. Page was also invited to participate in a sales event at an arts fair in Chicago when a friend of hers, who went to college with the person who ran the fair, put in a good word. The real-life implication of such relationships is clear: Page has seen her company's 2005 sales approach $500,000, and her company currently sells its products online at www.blockheadbath.com and at the Amazon.com Beauty store. Says Page, "People like to do business with people they know, and they like to help people they know-or kind of know."

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This article was originally published in the December 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It's Who You Know.

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