If you ask most business owners what their most valuable assets are many would probably say their products or their employees. Although this answer may be common, it is most definitely wrong. True, without products or services you would have nothing to offer to your customers. However, if you want to move beyond the basics of exchanging products and services for enough cash to cover your basic expenses you are going to need more than a well-developed offering of products and services. If you want to stomp on the accelerator and take your business to the next level, you need to have a deep bench of trusted connections you can call upon.
A Stable of Hard-Working Employees Isn’t Dynamic Enough
The case can be made that we have found ourselves at the beginning of a second Industrial Revolution. The way we buy, sell, and communicate seems to be changing almost daily. Many of the big-box retailers that used to dominate American commerce are now either closing their doors or in a mad dash to reconnect with their customers and meet them on today’s latest platforms.
It doesn’t matter whether you run a biotech startup delivering highly technical products or if you are a ‘solopreneur’ with a landscaping company. You will find yourself frequently trying to tackle projects you simply don’t have the skills or time to take on. The biotech scientist may be a whiz at physics and biology but trying to reconcile her books at the end of every month may leave her wanting to pull her hair out. The landscaper may find himself needing a polished brochure with great copy and great graphics to leave behind after he meets with a potential customer, but he may not even know where to start with this project.
Tasks like these are vital to the success of a business. In many situations, it is just not practical for either of these businesses to keep an employee with the required skill sets on board for 40 hours a week or even in a part-time capacity.
In today’s dynamic and ever-changing business landscape these types of situations are occurring more and more frequently. The truly savvy business owners reach out to their networks to find someone who can help them take these types of projects off their plate. Using freelancers or contractors on a project by project basis saves business owners time and money.
The only thing more important than access to talent is access to trusted talent
Close your eyes for just a moment. Pretend you are enjoying your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant. Chances are you can visualize yourself sitting in the restaurant, hear the chatter of the fellow patrons, smell the aroma of that wonderful meal waiting in front of you. You can almost taste the first bite.
It doesn’t matter whether your favorite meal is a filet at the renowned downtown steakhouse or, if you’re like me, a cheeseburger from the sports bar around the corner. You keep going back for this meal because you know you’re going to have a wonderful experience.
Using a pool of connections you know, like, and trust works much the same way. You know which one of your trusted referral partners has skills in specific areas. You know if he or she can deliver on time. You know how well each works with others. When you work with a partner you are genuinely familiar with, you can be confident it is going to be a good experience.
The Ripple Effect of a Bad Recommendation
If you do make a recommendation that goes south, you could wind up with a bigger problem than a colleague or customer whose project doesn’t get done on time. A bad recommendation could deliver a devastating blow to your personal brand.
I developed my stance on using a trusted network the hard way. I used a connection I did not have a strong relationship with to help me tackle a project for one of my clients. The connection technically finished the job, but the finished product was a lemon, chock full of careless errors.
When I’m on the lookout for customers, I choose quality over quantity. I choose to work with a few clients in a very deep way. I develop rock solid relationships built on countless trust-building interactions.
The subpar project was a major blemish on my reputation. My client was unhappy with the quality of the work. Our carefully cultivated trust was strained. Relying on personal connections to build your business means your personal brand is on the hook if things don’t work out. When your brand takes a hit people may begin to steer clear of you, and your opportunities seem to go up in smoke.
How to Build a Network You Can Trust
Robert Kiyosaki insists the difference between average Joe’s and wealthy individuals is those with wealth focus on building networks. Cultivating a robust, trusted, and productive network requires time and purposeful actions.
Going to a meeting, slapping on a phony smile, and passing out business cards in a rapid-fire style to everyone in the room is the surest way to waste time and money while building a network that will get you nowhere.
The best way to build a network that allows your business to thrive is to genuinely care about the success of others. Don’t come to the meeting to pass out your cards and see who’s willing to pay you for your product or service. Walk into the room with the goal of accomplishing two objectives.
First, take a genuine interest in the people you meet and actively consider how you can bring value to them. When your contacts realize you truly care about making connections to help others grow their business, they will see as a valuable partner. When you do something nice for others they will naturally feel compelled to return the favor.
The best sales people and marketers understand an invaluable psychological principle known as the law of reciprocity. For many sales people and marketers, the ultimate guide on eliciting a “yes” from others is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
In this sales classic, Cialdini tells readers the story of a salesman who finds success by simply doing a small favor for his customers. Simply by bringing his customers a soda, whether they asked for it or not, his customers felt compelled to buy from him. Customers who received this unanticipated gift bought more tickets. Even customers who did not like the salesman felt compelled to buy when they were presented with the simple gift of a soda.
Your second objective is to create robust connections. It may seem counterintuitive, but building a valuable network isn’t about shaking hands with hundreds or thousands of people. It’s about developing strong relationships with other professionals who feel comfortable sharing business opportunities with you. It’s great to know thousands of people, but if most don’t trust you or even remember what you do they’re not going to be a valuable referral partner.
Studies show that most folks can only manage a network of around 120 trusted colleagues. A network of just over 100 people can lead you to the same opportunities as someone who has thousands of email addresses in their contacts. Having a small group of colleagues who truly value your expertise and the relationship can be incredibly valuable because it allows you to remain top of mind with your networking partners. They will be on the lookout for opportunities to help you just as you have helped them. When they hear of someone who could benefit from your services you will be the first person they think of, and they won’t hesitate to send a referral your way.