When most people think about the person who could take their business to the next level, they’re likely thinking about someone they have yet to meet. But take it from a master networker: most business professionals already have all the connections they need.
Larry Perkins built his company, SierraConstellation Partners, at 29 years old and is now running $6 billion worth of companies because he picked up the phone, sent an email, and made lunch plans with the right connections over the years. His new book, Don’t Be A Stranger, gives you all the tools you need to do your own strategic relationship building.
When I caught up with Perkins, he told me that with a little work and the right approach, you can find that person who skyrockets your business to the next level. It can happen, but only if you approach the right people. So, who are the right people in your network to approach?
People You Already Know
If you want to build your business by networking, Perkins says the best place to start is with the people you already know but with whom you’ve fallen out of touch. Having a large network is great, but numbers are meaningless if you don’t have strong connections with anyone in your network. That’s because strategic relationships are based in warmth, friendship, and trust.
Reaching out doesn’t have to be elaborate or difficult. It can be as simple as a one-line “I’m thinking of you” email. But that email has inordinately powerful effects: it creates a warm feeling between you and the other person, and it brings you to the top of their mind. They’ll be much more likely to think of you when relevant opportunities cross their desk.
When you build relationships the right way, you create allies and advocates to represent you in the world. You grow a community and that community is the key to success.
Let’s say that you’ve built a solid relationship with a colleague from another company. If you’re looking for new clients, they may not directly know someone, but because they’re invested in helping you, they might reach out to their network, who will know someone.
You don’t need to know big-name people to succeed. Being able to tap into that kind of word of mouth is far more powerful than having superficial relationships with prominent people.
People at the Fringes of Your Industry
It’s useful to build connections with people within your industry ecosystem, but it’s also worthwhile to connect with people on the fringes. Having advocates in complementary or completely different industries can be immensely helpful in building your business.
For example, Perkins says being the only consultant somebody knows in his field has served him well over the years. Those in his network don’t know much about his competitors, so he’s able to frame his industry for them without the baggage of other experiences.
You can’t always control who organically grows into your network, but you can take opportunities to invite interesting and competent, diverse people into your network. The network is better, in general, when there are more, different people in the room.
That’s not to say that people infinitely far away from your industry will be helpful. You may not want to befriend your dog walker, unless you genuinely like him and want to be friends with him for his own sake. (Friendship is a great outcome with great people, regardless of industry.)
Building a network deliberately means spending your time to connect dots with people who can help you. Look at other pockets within your organization. Network with other people at your firm, at industry events, professional events, and anyone in a business environment.
Virtually anyone you meet in a professional environment is worth chit-chatting with. Chat and see where it goes. You’re there anyway, so you might as well use that time strategically.
What Makes a Real Connection?
As you build strategic relationships, keep in mind that not every contact will be either a buddy or a friend, and filing a name away in your contacts isn’t enough.
Relationships don’t exist in theory or on paper. People you knew ten years ago aren’t your network if you never talk to them again. Relationships are made of real human connections.
For these to be real relationships, you have to actually do what you do in relationships: relate. Putting a person in your contact list, your LinkedIn network, or filed away in a stack of business cards isn’t enough. You must stay in touch for the relationship to matter.
The number of friends, followers, or likes you have doesn’t matter. What matters is picking up the phone and having people at the other end of the line think fondly of you.
Connections don’t have to be profound or personal. Even a surface touchpoint now and again makes you more memorable and relatable than the dozens of people doing what you do.
Be Intentional with Your Network
Whether you have 10 people in your virtual rolodex or 1,000, Perkins says the key is not leaving the outcomes of these relationships up to chance. The most valuable asset any human being has is their relationships. So ditch the what ifs and if onlys.
Nourish the relationships you already have, however deep or shallow, and create circumstances that allow you to help one another. That’s how you use networking to grow your business.