Blazing a trail in business is often seen to be a solitary journey – one individual’s rise to the top. But many of the world’s biggest success stories were built on strong human connections, from Bill Gates and Paul Allen to Ben and Jerry.It’s an old yet true cliché: who you know is just as important as what you know. Cultivating relationships and partners that you can rely on for business advice, vital leads and encouraging support makes all the difference in fulfilling your ambitions. (1) Seize opportunities to meet face-to-face Every day is a chance to make human connections that spark priceless partnerships, point you in the direction of new business or lead to valuable investment. How often did you “really connect” on an email? Don’t be afraid of sharing ideas or experiences and don’t underestimate the value of reaching out to trusted contacts for their knowledge or a second opinion. Breaking out of an email chain and going for a coffee instead is a far better way to establish any sort of strong relationship. (2) Being shy doesn’t mean you can’t connect Networking isn’t easy for everyone. Many business leaders are surprisingly shy and have had to overcome this and get out of their comfort zone to get where they are today. However difficult networking seems, you’d struggle to fill seats around a dinner table with business leaders who don’t value it (and you probably wouldn’t want to). You don’t have to make big changes to your working life to reap huge benefits to your business results. It might just mean attending an industry event once a week, making a new LinkedIn connection or more regular communication with existing contacts. Fear is a really poor reason not to do this. Think back, when was the last occasion anything more than red cheeks resulted from chatting to a new person? (3) Mentoring adds value to your connections Genuine connections are only really great when they are reciprocal, so you should be offering your insight and expertise to others. Consider mentoring, both within and outside your business. Take more time to help your people develop – and be open to learning from them too. This mindset and way of working will create a virtuous circle that will strengthen and enrich your network. (4) Surround yourself with contacts You dedicate the vast majority of your time to your business so doesn’t it make sense to enjoy it? Work in a nurturing environment, surrounded by people that inspire you and can help you grow? Sitting in your own private office may be great for focus, but it won’t help you make connections. Shared offices and collaborative workspaces bring entrepreneurs together, providing the perfect atmosphere for natural networking. You’re already busy enough, so wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people you need to meet already walk right in your door? (5) Get your eye off the prize It’s all well and good returning from an event with your pockets stuffed with business cards, but connections need some investment in order for them to grow into strong business relationships. If you want to develop great connections then be genuine. Don’t start a conversation and rush straight into the topic that you think is important. We are all humans, we need people to hear us and we benefit from listening. Make the effort to stay in touch with your connections and cultivate a dialogue that extends beyond your own immediate needs. It may sound time consuming but you’ll reap the rewards of a well-built network in no time. After all, how likely are you to help someone you met six months ago and hadn’t bothered speaking to you since? Not likely is my guess. James Layfield is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Central Working.
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