As an entrepreneur, you’re responsible for all of your company’s successes and failures. It’s you who must make payroll each month, and it’s you who gets credit when your app tops the charts.
Our society glorifies self-reliance, but if you look at the most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll realize that most didn’t do it on their own. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. Mark Zuckerberg had Chris Hughes, Dustin Moskovitz, and Eduardo Saverin. Even business moguls like Mark Cuban surround themselves with savvy partners to help avoid costly mistakes.
If you want to succeed in business, you must have the self-awareness to know what you don’t know. Accepting that, and then enlisting the help of others, is one of the smartest moves you can make. I started working with a mentor before I even founded my business, and since then, I’ve surrounded myself with smart people I respect. These connections help me overcome hurdles, refine my business model, and avoid major pitfalls.
A few years ago, two of my advisors dived into my business’ software technology stack. One was a former software developer, and the other was the vice president of a large mergers and acquisitions firm. They told me that some of the code base wouldn’t be conducive to integrations or acquisition. In other words, we needed to redevelop the entire platform. This was incredibly disheartening to hear at the time, but I’m so thankful for that advice today.
Your network can be your greatest asset, but to tap into this resource, you need to build and nurture these connections over time. Like any other relationship, your business connections require consistent care and maintenance. Just as you wouldn’t expect to bring your significant other home for the holidays after months of radio silence, you shouldn’t expect a favor from someone you met at a conference and never called again.
Here are five tips for nurturing a strong, loyal network of people who can help your business thrive:
1. Be a resource to others. So many entrepreneurs fail at networking because they only approach people when they need something. This makes the relationship annoyingly one-sided and prevents people from wanting to go out of their way to help you.
To create a healthy “give and take,” make yourself a resource to your connections. In Wunderlist, I maintain a checklist of people to stay in touch with, and every so often, I’ll reach out with a LinkedIn message, phone call, or email to remind them I’m available as a resource.
2. Pencil in face time. Staying in touch electronically is important, but nothing beats in-person meetings. In fact, studies show that face-to-face interactions are the best for reconnecting and building relationships and boosting trust.
Reaching out to grab coffee, eat lunch, or meet up at an industry event is a great way to stay on your connections’ radar. I’ve invested in season tickets for our local baseball team so I can invite members of my network to sit down, have a couple beers, and spend some quality time together.
3. Send handwritten thank-you notes. I’m a huge fan of sending handwritten notes to connections as a thank-you. When some executives took time to meet with me before their largest trade show, I sent a small token of gratitude and a handwritten note to everyone in attendance. It’s an inexpensive yet memorable way to express your sincerity.
4. Create your own mastermind group. Sometimes, the best ideas come from setting aside your own challenges and focusing on someone else’s. On the first Thursday of every month, the KC Startup Village hosts “Founders’ Focus,” a mastermind group designed to help entrepreneurs resolve challenges and avoid common mistakes. The group helped me discover how to resolve toxic employee relationships, which feature enhancements would help my company move forward, and how I could improve my pitch.
5. Listen to your connections. When you reach out to connections for advice, what they have to say isn’t often what you want to hear. While their advice is extremely valuable, it means nothing if you don’t act on it. If you’re going to ask for a connection’s expert opinion, don’t waste his or her time by failing to follow through.
Networking can sometimes get a bad rap as being a transactional “what can you do for me?” activity. But when you go in with the right mindset and commit to helping others not just yourself—you’ll find some amazing individuals who can help you take your business to the next level.