How to build an influential network

How to build an influential network

One of the most difficult things when starting out in business is figuring out how to get in front of the right people.  You might have the perfect product or service, but just need that one big break for a decision-maker to offer you the “keys to the kingdom.”  As many young people aim to enter the business world, the most crucial first step is building your network so you have people to help you grow.

As the saying goes, “you are the sum of the five people around you.”  If your network is not thriving, you will not thrive.  Yet, building a network can seem like a daunting task that takes time away from your business.  Unfortunately, networking is an important fact of doing well in business, but the good news is that if done effectively, it should not inhibit you from your working on your passions simultaneously.

After hearing countless people ask how they can better improve the reach and quality of their network, I talked with Joel Contartese, a member of Forbes’s Communication Council and someone who has worked with the biggest influencers, to hear the advice he passes onto others for building influential networks.  I noticed a thread of logic in his advice similar to succeeding in business overall: think about others.  Whether you are just starting in business or are a seasoned veteran, these steps will allow your network to thrive.

1. Make them want to talk to you

No matter whether you are talking to a young kid or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the two things every person has in common are that they do not know everything and they have problems.  Many people will reach out to powerful or influential executives, managers, and icons hoping to get a favor or some sort of value.  However, if you are a busy person, your time and network are precious to you, so random individuals asking for both pose a threat, not a benefit.

The obvious reaction is to ignore them: there is no value in talking to them.  Since your goal is to get a reply, rather than thinking about what you want from them think longer-term.  If you can offer to solve a problem they have, then you will get a response and can develop a relationship.  Forming this relationship will help lead to the long-term goal of building your network and getting your leg-up.

2. Focus on face-to-face interaction

Technology is a tool for making the world a smaller place and helping connect others.  It can even be a great tool for finding and meeting new people.  However, if you limit your interactions to online spaces, you will fail to convert conversations into solid relationships. Ultimately, it does not matter who is in your LinkedIn network or who is your Facebook friend, but whether when the time comes, you can ask for their help and get it.

As you explore the online world and begin talking to and meeting important individuals, aim to develop these deeper relationships instead of merely interacting with them.  You should think of your challenge as to whether or not you would receive an invitation to their wedding.  Staying up-to-date with their lives, take an interest in what they do, and routinely meet face-to-face to catch up.  These are the relationships that last and will convert into powerful benefits.

3. Know when someone is worth cutting off

One of the toughest lessons in the business world is understanding who is a powerful connection and who is not.  Powerful connections are those who are thriving, can offer you some insight or introductions, and overall are growing and want to see you grow with them.  Not powerful connections are either those who are not growing and might even hurt your reputation, even if you do not know it, or are those who do not want to see you grow.

With time, you will become adept at filtering through who is worth getting to know and who will waste your time.  Additionally, you will begin to realize who in your life is worth keeping around and who is not.  Also, some people may change over your time knowing them. No matter what the circumstance, if someone is no longer a powerful connection and is either causing direct harm to you or simply leeching of you, cut them off.

Growing as a person and as a business person often requires you to have the best people around you that can help you where you struggle and open the doors you cannot.  As Joel Contartese has learned from his work with the Forbes Communication Council and in advising entrepreneurs, figure out a way to get in the door, develop a face-to-face relationship, and only keep the best connections around you.  If you can implement this mindset focused on building relationships with others and solving their problems, your network and career will thrive.

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