Even the most talented and prolific entrepreneurs fall flat without a durable support system and network in place. In theory, any entrepreneur will tell you that he or she understands the importance of networking, but in reality, networking can take a back seat to everything from branding strategy to funding.
So, even if you’re sitting on the most amazing product or service of our time, you still need relationships to help spread the word and support your success, whether that occurs through a customer base, investors, mentoring support or vendors who help you sustain quality inventory.
How you develop those amazing relationships isn’t as simple as attending a few networking events and adding someone’s name and business information to Evernote. What you really need are beneficial relationships that act as a two-way conduit, enabling you to help each other in an organic way.
Forcing those relationships or seeking out people who will help you without giving anything in return, however, is an easy way to get privately blackballed from your industry. Fortunately, although building quality relationships as an entrepreneur takes time, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some of the easiest ways to get started:
1. Connect with influencers.
Connecting with influencers has gone from being a trendy marketing concept to a commonplace practice, whether the purpose is to build a name for yourself in online marketing or establish your own network. Yet that doesn't mean that people always find and engage influencers correctly.
To start, understand what the role of an influencer really is. At its core, your relationship with an influencer is advantageous because he or she has access to other highly influential people in your industry. And what's more important, this influencer has likely amassed a loyal following with your target audience, along with their trust.
Respect the value influencers bring to the table and tread lightly as you move forward. What can you offer them? Why should they care about your business or about helping you? Simply rushing up to the table with a business plan and a request for funding, contacts or mentoring is a surefire way to turn off a promising relationship.
2. Find the right networking groups.
Anyone can sign up for a networking group and make the rounds, with flashy business cards. Smart entrepreneurs build relationships by choosing the right events and groups. Scour LinkedIn for relevant groups with like-minded professionals who actively trade advice, plan offline events and do more than just promote their own businesses.
Curating the right networking group also means going outside your inner circle altogether. Gallup Research encourages diversifying your networks and going beyond the vertical ties, or people in your immediate circle. To expand your network, open up your relationship base to your competitors and suppliers, along with unrelated businesses.
3. Offer something of value.
The next time you’re tempted to walk up to someone at a networking event and pitch your idea within the first few minutes, think about business writer and speaker Neil Fogarty. Every week, strangers ask him to introduce them to Richard Branson, without offering any explanation or much more than a "hello.’" Don't make that mistake.
Instead, once you’ve started building up a relationship, offer something of real value. Being genuinely helpful is one of the easiest and fastest ways to build actual relationships, rather than just a network. But you don’t need to offer the world and make promises to everyone: The trick is to be helpful without expecting anything in return.
Start by being a good listener and openly sharing your expertise when that's warranted. Simply being attentive and engaged leaves a lasting impression that you're someone who cares. Next, host a free workshop or seminar, or offer to be a guest speaker, to share your knowledge and expertise without expecting a sale. The more you put yourself out there to build momentum and offer value, the more momentum you’ll build toward a return on your investment of time and service.
4. Take accountability.
No one really talks about what it takes to build up long-lasting, transparent relationships with clients. Start by taking accountability for your company’s shortcomings, as well as your own, to win the respect of your customers and build long-lasting relationships and brand advocates.
That doesn’t mean rolling over and taking abuse over every misunderstanding or infraction. But it does mean taking ownership of what you have control over, working to address and resolve problems and conducting business with respect. Being accountable to your clients shows them the integrity of your product, and, more important, the fact that you’re worth doing business with.
What if an issue truly wasn’t your fault and there was nothing you could do to please the customer? Turn the sour experience into something creative, fun and positive. The popular bar Lost Property in Hollywood received its first Yelp review -- just one star -- and its owners were troubled when they couldn't resolve the complaint. So, instead, they threw a party and offered $1 drinks to commemorate the event and attracted word-of-mouth attention.
5. Create your own opportunities.
There’s no excuse for not building entrepreneurial relationships or creating networking opportunities in an age where an online group can be organized and advertised in less than five minutes. Create your own opportunities by advertising a free webinar on LinkedIn or Facebook, and carefully curate a newsletter list. Repeatedly offer free content, advice and expert insights to a growing audience seeking to build a relationship with you.
Instead of complaining that there are no quality networking groups in your area, create your own (I’ve been doing this myself all around the country). Recruit guest speakers with expertise on topics that will benefit your fellow entrepreneurs, such as how to land clients or learning to deal with cash flow issues. Leverage your new role as leader to continue offering value to your group, and pitch local press as a means to further grow your network.
Remember that unless you’re a natural networker, no one is comfortable trying to turn small talk into a lasting impression the first few times. But you’ll find that the more you put yourself out there and refine your technique, the more authentic and engaged you become in the process.
That’s when you'll realize that the real trick is adopting the mentality of building relationships and connecting. Once you’ve nailed that, everything else feels like an effortless part of how you approach all aspects of your business -- from launching a new business idea to hiring a dedicated team.
How do you build business relationships that make an impact on your business? Let us know by leaving a comment below: