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It’s natural to gravitate toward the people we like or have fun with. It’s also easy to want to invest in just a few relationships and make big efforts to nurture those specific connections. However, I’ve learned over time that to challenge yourself, you have to extend your network beyond that.
I recently experienced the truth of this with the launch of Calendar, my new venture with my business partner. This isn’t just a company that’s important to me in terms of success; it feeds my passion to help people understand their return on investment when it comes to how they use their time (or ROIT, as I call it). But the reactions I received in response to the launch surprised me.
I thought some people I’d known for years would jump at the chance to be helpful. These were people whose books I’ve promoted and who I’ve done multiple favors for — I’ve even sent business their way. I haven’t been a stranger with referrals. Yet I haven’t heard anything or seen any efforts from them to support my new venture.
On the other hand, people I’ve met over the past year — or people I didn’t have a “close” relationship with — have welcomed the opportunity to connect me with potential investors, customers, and partners. They’ve introduced me to anyone they felt might be valuable to the company’s purpose. It was a great reminder that support doesn’t always come from the corners we expect.
People Can — and Will — Surprise You
This experience has also been a great reminder to engage a wide variety of people. I’m not recommending befriending every person who walks by, but remember that your network can help you overcome challenges, power past barriers, and create opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise exist. A narrow network full of people in the same industry or with the same background isn’t nearly as helpful as connections across the spectrum.
In your time of need — professional or personal — surprising people will rise to the occasion. Good people come from all walks of life. Here are five things I’ve learned about identifying people worthy of joining your circle:
1. Don’t blow people off because you don’t think they’re important.
Some of the most helpful people you’ll meet aren’t CEOs or well-known influencers. They have a sister who’s an exec at a large brand in need of your product, and they thought it was a good fit. They ran into somebody at a conference and mentioned your name. They’re engaging people who may not have big titles, but they carry influence nonetheless.
Focus on the quality of the people you encounter and how you can help each other, not on who has the biggest name. I’ve had some amazing people without big names connect the dots to offer a lot of value. Letting your ego prevent you from circulating in groups below the C-suite can hurt you — and prevent you from meeting some really great people.
2. A personal content strategy helps you nurture large groups.
I recently had somebody I’d never met connect me to an investor who was an amazing fit. This “stranger” simply said, “I’ve read your content for years and knew you two would hit it off.” This person helped me more than some people I’ve known for years and approached for intros. He felt connected to me through my writing, despite never shaking hands.
Content allows you to reach a larger audience of potential helpers. As long as you’ve communicated what’s valuable to you, you’ll have an army of people looking out for you. They’ll also have lots of details about what’s relevant and what’s not, without even asking.
3. Don’t assume anything about anybody.
I made the mistake of assuming a couple of people I knew would be incredibly helpful. In reality, I could tell they’d just quickly nodded and agreed to help a lot — the fake nod may even have been a habit by that point. They sent one tweet and moved on.
Others preach about the importance of helping others, but I’ve noticed they don’t actually do anything, even when somebody they care about is doing something she considers important. Look at people’s track records to anticipate how truly helpful they’ll be. Assess how they treat their spouse, friends, and business partners. That’s a (best-case scenario) foreshadowing of how they’ll treat you.
4. Remember the people who are helpful, and reciprocate.
I’m not suggesting you should set up a quid pro quo arrangement or only trade in favors. However, you need to remember the people who’ve been there for you so you can grow together. Just like in a solid personal relationship, reciprocation is important when building a helpful network.
Make a note or reflect on the people who’ve helped move the needle for you. Keep an eye out for opportunities to do something for them. Always show appreciation, and ask how you can help the other person in the future. Sometimes, simply modeling this behavior can trigger others to pay it forward — and that’s a good thing for the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem.
5. Get OK with asking for help.
For years, I avoided asking for help. My previous company was doing well, and I was in a place where I was traveling a lot and could help others frequently. Now, I’m about to launch a new company in uncharted territory, where I will need others’ help. As well as things are going, it’s at the beginning when help is most needed.
I’ve had to remind myself that it’s OK to let people be helpful. A lot of leaders are taught that showing vulnerability is dangerous. If people see cracks in your armor, they’ll pounce. But this type of thinking blocks you from getting the things you can’t achieve on your own, and it prevents people from feeling helpful. Showing vulnerability helps others do the same — they may need your help and be afraid to ask for it.
I know I’m not alone in my experience. Every day, we’re surprised by the people who let us down — and the people who come through. To avoid being caught off guard, build a network of good people with a variety of strengths and interests. When the time is right, you’ll be able to help each other find success.
May 26, 2019 at 07:06AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs