I like to head to the bar for happy hour on Fridays. My favorite watering hole provides me an environment where I can relax, letting the stresses of work melt away while reflecting on the highlights of the work week. Of course, I work weekends too, so I can only party so much on my Friday night. After all, being an entrepreneur involves working 24/7 like someone else is working just as hard to take it all away from you. Yes, that’s a Mark Cuban quote. And it’s 100% true in my experience.
As my first Blue Moon hits the table and the bartender is distracted by someone needing a fresh glass, I stare at the TV and pretend to be watching. It’s easier being antisocially introspective when there’s a TV to stare at. The subject that always seems to float to the top of my mind is how I’m doing at building relationships.
What is a Business Network?
Family and friends are important, but a business network is something that can be a secret weapon in the entrepreneur’s tool chest. It’s a group of people in your life that can provide you with mentoring, industry knowledge, reliable vendors, and a knowledgeable target to vent to when things become overwhelming.
Where family and friends are the people that you spend time with because you love and care about them, your business network is about adding value to your strategic position. It might sound Machiavellian, but trust me, those looking to build their business network are looking for the same thing. They want an unfair advantage through the relationships they build.
Keep it Real
Over the past few years, I’ve managed to find people that contribute to my goals and establish relationships with them. I give back as much as I get by helping them in any way that I can. It’s a 2-way street. But, more often than I’d like, there are people that try to make a connection with me based on false pretenses.
I’m out there, working hard and helping others while networking with my circle of contacts to do great things. If you’re an open person, people feel comfortable approaching you. That’s a great thing! But, so, so many people try to put up a false front. They take “Fake it ‘til you make it!” to the extreme. Everybody has walls that they build to protect themselves, but there’s a difference between cautiously letting people in, and building a false facade built on smoke and mirrors.
As Steve Tobak is fond of saying: “If you really are faking it…when in reality, you have little or no talent, capability, or experience…that will not end well…”
The funny part is that very few people can fake it without leaving clues. There will be cracks in the mask and trust me when someone realizes you’re fake, they think much less of you than if you honestly represented yourself from the beginning. Everyone in your life that is successful started out in a place where they were not. Failure is the tuition that’s paid for long-term success.
So, when you’re approaching a potential business connection, be 100% real. You’ll get a genuine engagement back; whether that’s a conversation or a polite decline. Don’t waste your time being phony. It won’t help you long-term.
Put the Social in Social Media
The internet goes with me in my pocket wherever I go. That includes the bar as I ask the bartender for a refill. My iPhone has my Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram apps on the home screen. While these apps can be incredibly distracting during the workday, they also provide an opportunity to connect with other individuals in my field.
Jonathan Long, in an article on Entrepeneur.com, points out that virtually every successful entrepreneur spends a portion of their day on Twitter. It’s entirely possible to connect with valuable contact by following them on Twitter and strategically responding to a few of their tweets.
If you focus on being a constructive part of an influencer’s day, then you’ll eventually earn the opportunity to add them to your business network. Focus on adding value and making their day better; don’t focus on sucking all of the potentials out of the relationship with short-term thinking (i.e. requests for an endorsement, their thoughts on your work, or an introduction to another individual before establishing rapport).
And before you tell me it can’t be done, I completed this article on my iPhone in the time it took me to finish a couple of beers. If I can find a way to impart my experiences to the world from a smartphone, in a pub, then you can conquer the challenge of building your own business network. Winners really do surround themselves with winners; so get out there and start winning in style!