How These 5 Strategies Help Me Make -- and Keep -- Connections That Grow My Business
I get asked a lot, how did you make the connections you made? Here's the truth: I was lucky enough to first meet Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse Hotels, on the Summit Cruise in 2015, where thousands of entrepreneurs from all walks of life congregated for three days of conversations and cocktails. I became a member of this community of entrepreneurs as a way for me to learn, to network of course and honestly, to feel less alone. I made sure to go to the few hospitality panels that were being offered when a now Saira board member (also on the boat) approached me at the end of the panel and told me Lambert would love to hear more about my vision.
It takes a lot to grow a successful business, especially in the nonprofit sector, but making and keeping connections is a huge part of growing a community that can better your endeavors. The rest is the stuff we all already know, pitch, visualize, manifest and so on. So, below is my story so far, of how I found the incredible people and partners I work with every day and how you can do the same:
Start your own community.
One of the first things I did when I founded Saira was to enlist a board of advisors. I was looking for genuine, accomplished, passionate individuals who would bring their skills to the table for my company and cause. Strategically select your board and ask yourself: Are they willing to give you their time when you're seeking advice or contacts? Do they have experience they can share with you? Do they share the long-term vision? Will they keep you motivated when you're close to giving up? What are the skills that you may be lacking? What support do you need? Who has something to teach you?
Once you have a board, celebrate them. Connect them. Reach out and update them on your successes and failures. Create your own community. Even if these members are not ready to join your organization, and maybe you're not ready to hire, allow them to feel connected to a movement they feel passionately about. Keeping people who you admire close is a great way to get honest advice and support when you need it, and it makes a huge difference to know you have amazing people on your team, rooting you on.
Share once a day.
One of my first projects came from a friend at a coworking space, who mentioned Saira to a friend, who then mentioned Saira to her friend, who happened to be one of the developers of a new luxury resort and residential development in Mexico. That would never have happened if I didn't talk about myself and my work. You have to mention what you do.
I often feel guilty for talking solely about my company when meeting new people -- no one wants to feel like they're monopolizing the conversation -- but there is a benefit to talking about your vision and ongoing work. For me, the larger purpose and end goal behind Saira drives me to share, even when I honestly don't feel like it. It doesn't have to be a hard sell; it's really just sharing information and seeing what happens. But, you do need to let people know -- even when you don't really want to.
Sometimes I force myself to tell at least one person a day what I do; sometimes they love it and sometimes they smile and say, "That's nice." Either way, you only need a few to love it and share it with the deal makers. You never know who knows whom or which someone is going to help you make the deal you've been visualizing and working toward.
Share wine with a stranger.
My first consultancy project after graduating from Cornell's Hotel School was created by sharing wine. A winter afternoon in NYC led to a girlfriend and I sharing a bottle of red wine neither of us realized we couldn't finish. It was a crowded restaurant and we had opted for the communal table instead of waiting for a smaller one. Seated next to us was a tall, handsome gentleman with a tall, equally beautiful woman who had been watching us with amusement and had the unfortunate pleasure of listening to me complain to my girlfriend about the challenges I was facing as a recent entrepreneur. Our offer to share the wine, while politely and intelligently declined, was returned with a business card. He couldn't help overhearing and said he could use some help with his own hotel, a Relais and Chateaux property in Hawaii.
The simple exchange led me to a connection I now cherish, all because I followed up on that business card and short exchange. It's easy to forget or put off reaching out when you make connections, but you need to do your best to be in touch about every potential opportunity. Even if nothing comes of it, you are creating a reputation for being prompt, responsive and attentive to your work.
Stay honest so you can stay in touch.
After a year of consulting for a project in Hawaii, I realized I had to end the contract. While it was a luxury to work from home and have New York City rent covered by this hotel, there comes a time when you know the work you're doing is no longer serving your own soul nor the client's needs. It turns out this tall, handsome gentleman was also extremely fair and considerate and while he also felt it might be time to put our working relationship on hold, he allowed me to initiate the conversation instead of calling it to a close himself.
It's like a relationship that drags on and by the end of it, too much is said that you just can't stay in touch. End it while it's still good. Don't wait until you dread talking to people or there is apparent resentment building on either (or both) sides. Stay in touch. When they're in town or you're in town, just as when you date someone, you enter their life and if there's no real reason to leave, stay in it. Someone who has given you a chance may do so again, when it's better for both of you.
Related: 5 Keys to Making True Connections
Send the emails that make you smile when you hit "send."
When I heard of the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, I was devastated. I couldn't stop thinking about what I could do to help in some way. I had just wrapped up a project and I reached back out to the business partner of the tall, handsome gentleman, who I had met during my stint in Hawaii. I was thinking of hotels I could connect with in the area to start programs that would help restore jobs and income to local communities and immediately knew who I had to try to reach. Below are a few lines from my email:
"Thought I'd try my luck in reaching Richard Branson as I search for partners and remembered you might know him from XXX. Just asking on a whim, but any ideas on how to connect with him? On the minor off-chance, he doesn't get back to my email ;)"
I had also written to Branson directly after finding his email address online. Both of the above emails made me smile when I sent them. I wasn't waiting, I was reaching out to see what could be done. You have to take things into your own hands. I put something out in the universe ... twice. I thought it had to happen, and it did. It's an old saying, but it's true: You really never know and you'll never find out if you don't try. Don't doubt yourself or your business; if there is a connection that would be a dream to make, reach out. You never know.