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The Network Effect: Why Contacts Matter in Business and in Life

Posted on Aug 16, 2012 by  | 0 Comments

By Dug Campbell

In the village of Edinburgh, stories about remarkable events in the business world - both good and bad - have always spread quickly. But today this speed of communication is no longer unique to smaller business communities. Few will have failed to notice how stories are shared between more people than ever before and how these in turn lead to relationships being created with little regard to the constraints of location.

I spend much of my time looking into how the growth of online relationships affects the reality of business. It’s fascinating to watch how some choose to build and categorise their connections systematically whilst for others, involvement is entirely passive. Regardless of your level of engagement, people should, in my view, at least be conscious of the way that the world is changing around them.

So, with this in mind, it was great to have the opportunity to hear Heidi Roizen's tips for how to build a business network at a recentEntrepreneurship Club event. In case you haven’t heard of her, Heidi’s kind of a big deal in the Valley for a number of reasons. Starting out as an entrepreneur, she went on to sell her first business before working with various companies (including Apple), sitting on many boards (including Tivo), becoming a VC with DFJ andlecturing on entrepreneurship at Standard University.

With the benefit of having pursued varied business interests during her career and as someone who’s been the subject of a case study in the Harvard Business Review, she’s well-placed to comment on how connections built within your business network can positively affect your career.

But let’s bring it back to basics - why do you need to build a business network in the first place? 

Because it’s a fact that we’re all increasingly living for longer. Like it or not, the reality is that any future government is not going to have the money to support you in your dotage. Success in this environment means ensuring that you can be self-reliant - which in turn will require each of us to reinvent ourselves repeatedly throughout our working lives. And the best way to achieve this is to spread your network widely in order to meet people who can help you (and - most importantly - who you can help) on your own journey.

How can you do this? Heidi shared the following ten tips:-

  • 1. Make yourself easy to find

Whether as an individual or as a company, ensure that you adopt a uniform, recognisable presence between digital platforms.

  • 2. Make yourself easy to help

If you ask someone for a favour, make it simple for them to say yes. For example, if asking for an introduction, send an email that can be simply forwarded without effort.

  • 3. Do your homework. And then follow up

By doing this, you’ll be ahead of 99% of your competition. Always end with a friendly email saying thanks. People with large networks often find it impossible to remember details about people that they’ve dealt with over the years. They use historic email exchanges to remember previous conversations. Make sure that you leave a positive digital trail for the future.

  • 4. Remember - we’re all human

Each person that you deal with in business (or in life in general) may be right in the middle of either the worst or best day of their life. All others will be somewhere else along the spectrum - but you won’t know where. Always give people the benefit of the doubt and recognise others’ personal life events in some way, even if it only by sending a quick email.  

  • 5. Start with what you can give.

Networks are built on the principle of reciprocity. People want to help others who have helped them - even if they don’t initially value what you’ve given them (think of the pen inside the charity envelope). You always have something to give, even if you don’t think that you do. The younger you are, your gift might simply be the time and willingness to listen without prejudices.

  • 6. Build relationships in business exchanges  

Constantly look for the best result for both sides - never think of any negotiation as a zero-sum game and work creatively to build a bigger ‘pie’ for everyone involved. If you haven’t already, read the classic 'Getting to Yes'.

  • 7. Be consistent in your responses

We’re in the midst of a revolution in communication. It matters less which platforms you choose to use to communicate than whether or not you stay on top of the discussions on your chosen platforms. Fall behind and you will miss opportunities.

  • 8. Build your personal brand

Be consistent in your dealings and your standards so that people know where they stand with you - not a bad attitude to adopt outside the workplace also.

  • 9. Buy more tickets!

You make your own luck as an entrepreneur. Don’t expect to win the lottery if you’re not buying any tickets. Get involved, get out there and connect. Luck happens to those who put in the hard work. Make sure you’re in that ‘lucky’ place at the right time

  • 10. When all else fails - and it will - laugh. 

It’s ok to fail - in fact, it’s a pre-requisite of most success. Failure’s not the falling down. It’s the staying down.

A great talk and in my view just as relevant to the more senior members of the business community present as to the student entrepreneurs in the room. Well done to the EClub for once again bringing a quality speaker to Edinburgh to share some great tips for business - but also for life in general. 

What do you think? If you’re planning on living a long life, do you agree that the more interesting people you can fill it with the better?

@dugcampbell

douglas.campbell@mbmcommercial.co.uk

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