Author Porter Gale wrote the most important asset in business isn’t financial capital, but social capital – the ability to “build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships.”
The majority of entrepreneurs, start-ups and established businesses are surrounded by some type of support network everyday, be it in the workplace, on social media platforms such as LinkedIn and many often rely heavily on family and friends. But what is the use of making more connections if we don’t know how to make the most of our support network?
Building the network is one thing, but how to we then go on to leverage our ‘community capital’?
A good support network needs to encourage and help your business thrive by adding value where it’s needed the most, but many find themselves stuck in a cycle of giving and never receiving the same back. How can this be done?
Sweat your existing network
If you look on your LinkedIn profile, you probably have several tens or hundreds of connections that you don’t utilise or call onto for business advice or opinion. Similarly, how many business cards do you have in your wallet or purse that you think could be of true business value? Start doing something about it, drop them an email, give them a call and re-introduce yourself.
Remember – business thrives on collaboration, and your network could be just as keen for your input as you are for theirs. Seek out complementary businesses and learn together. This will open up opportunities and provides the chance for you to share your own expertise.
Seize opportunities to meet face-to-face
It’s important not to get stuck in the digital age and only ever “meet” people via email or over the phone. The majority of SMEs, start-ups and already established businesses forget that human interaction is key to developing good relationships and some of the most valuable business connections start with a face-to-face conversation. People exchange information for more freely face-to-face.
Email and Skype should make real-world interactions easier and more efficient, not hinder them, so make time to catch up with people face to face. Of course face-to-face meetings take up more time, but the benefits could be career changing
Attend workplace events
Attending workplace events is an excellent way of connecting and networking with peers. This allows you to branch out to your most immediate network – your colleagues.
Make time to cast the net further afield and sign up to industry events. Trade magazines are often a great place to look – many will have their own programme of conferences – but also try Facebook where groups dedicated to your sector will routinely share events.
Don’t just connect – broadcast
It’s important to stay connected with people via email, telephone and meet for occasional business lunches, but what about social media? Naturally you’ll want to remain in touch with your existing network, but also consider how you’re broadcasting your insight to those you haven’t connected with yet – beyond a snappy bio, what insight are you sharing?
Consider producing content for social media – particularly LinkedIn. Reeling off a quick, insightful post on a topical industry moment or providing advice to others with a longform article will see you shared into other networks.
Pay attention to the comments – even those who disagree with you – as they often provide opportunities to spark up a conversation. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself exchanging contacts with someone who I first interacted with following a LinkedIn article. This isn’t marketing fluff – it works.
There’s no right or wrong way of building a successful support network but whether you’re a startup, entrepreneur or an already established business, a strong support network is vital in order for your business to stay afloat.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, seize opportunities to meet peers face-to-face, attend networking events and most importantly stay connected. Soon building and leveraging your support network will become second nature.