(This article was first published in the April edition of Face Magazine)
Whether you own a business, work a typical office job or run a busy household, there's something to be said for being well connected. When a well-connected person needs something, they simply pick up the phone and make a call to a friend in the right place. It seems so easy. But how do people become well connected? Is there a secret that only those people know?
I avoid traditional networking groups and events like the plague. (Think of all the low-level sales sharks tossing business cards around like confetti.) Old-school networkers quantify new people from a transactional standpoint. How much is each new person worth to them? How many people do they need to meet to make one sale? In short, they pursue relationships based only on what the other person can do for them.
In my professional life, I choose to be a relationship builder. Relationship builders take the opposite approach of the old-school networker. We focus on helping others without necessarily keeping score. It isn't about meeting this month's goals or sales numbers, it is about building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships (which in the long run contribute those same results, but usually at a higher level).
The people I work with are more than just professional contacts; they’re people I care about. If I didn't care about them, I don't believe I'd be able to do my job well. And as for those people with whom I don't (yet) work, I view them as people who have taken their valuable time to get to know me, not just potential future income.
Focus on Quality over Quantity
Top professionals have five to ten active alliances. What makes a relationship an alliance? An ally is someone you consult regularly for advice. You proactively share and collaborate on opportunities. You keep your antennae attuned to an ally's needs and interests, and when it makes sense to pursue something jointly, you do. Most importantly, you stick up for your allies. You promote your ally’s brand. When an ally runs into conflict, you defend him and stand up for his reputation, knowing that he will do the same for you.
Be generous with your connections
Part of being well connected is acting as a connector for other people. Recognizing what each person brings to the table, you can make introductions that benefit all parties involved. If you genuinely seek to help others by sharing your connections, others will be apt to do the same for you.
Don't be a climber
We all know those people— the ones who suck up to the big dogs and treat the little people like dirt. It's usually blatantly obvious to the big dogs and little people alike. Treat everyone with the same respect. Even if they can't do much to help you professionally, there's something to be learned from everyone. (But if that's not enough to convince you, remember: it's usually someone at "the bottom" that serves as gatekeeper and makes the schedule for the man on top.)
Befriend your competitors
It's just as important to make friends with others in your field. Call competitors to go get coffee. There are always opportunities to work together. Even if it's just to send them a client you can't take or vice versa. Ideally, you can make a friend that you can even call on for advice when you run into a problem that most people won't understand.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
I help people out when they need it but I'm also not afraid to ask for help. People are usually more than willing to help but often won't volunteer. Asking someone for help doesn't make you look weak; it shows you respect his opinion or position enough to recognize he can help you.
It's ok to say no
Don't be a doormat. You don't have to do everything and you can't be all things to all people. No matter how hard you try, not everyone will like you. It's important to realize that if you spread yourself too thin, the most important relationships in your work and home life can suffer.
Maintain your relationships
Over the long haul, it takes more work to build a relationship than it does to maintain one. Value your contacts enough to realize that letting them slip away can sometimes be as bad as burning the bridge altogether. To avoid losing touch, work to keep yourself on their radar. Check in from time to time, ask to meet up for lunch or send articles and bits of information that you think might be useful.
Tired of the same old same old? Here are some places to meet new people and expand your network.
Get social. Engage with organized groups that already share your values and interests, such as the705 (the705.org) for young leaders, Junior League for women or CrossFit for those focused on fitness.
Volunteer and attend fundraisers. Organizations don't typically struggle to find people willing to buy a $1,000 table but they are always short on helping hands. Most would be happy to have you work the registration desk. Not only do you get to enjoy the event but you get to meet everyone who walks through the door.
Be the leader. There are two ways to meet people: (1) Seek out people to know or (2) Be the person to know. Put yourself in positions of authority and higher profile. Be the person people need to know to get stuff done (e.g., Marketing Chair, President, Activity Director, Volunteer Coordinator).
Make it fun. Meeting new people is awkward enough without the pressure of formality. Have fun with meeting new people. Join a softball or kickball sports league like Acadiana Sports Leagues (GeauxASL.com) that is focused on helping people meet, or start up your own club (Monthly Wine Tasting club). If you are having fun – you will stay committed and be successful.