One of my favourite stories about how to build a great business network is about a New York City insurance salesman in the 1930s. For more than a decade, Elmer Letterman hosted networking lunches every Friday at the Four Seasons restaurant. His strategy was simple. He invited three business people who he thought should meet because they might be able to work together. For example, Letterman might invite a chef who wanted to start a restaurant, a banker who could finance it and a construction executive who could build it. He would explain why each party was credible and relevant to the others, start the conversation off, pay the bill and leave. He didn’t bring sales brochures with him or try to pitch insurance.
How did these networking investments pay off? Well let’s do the math.
Three people times 50 weeks a year for a decade. That’s a business network of 1,500 people throughout New York who had Letterman to thank for part of their success. According to BNI founder Ivan Misner’s book, ‘Masters of Networking,’ Letterman not only developed a reputation as a major contributor to New York’s business community, he was one of the most successful insurance salespeople of his time. He dramatically improved the lives of everyone he touched by focusing on promoting the success of others, then trusting them to think of him when they needed insurance. The system worked by not only by Letterman adding value, but by multiplying value.
You could do this too! It’s a matter of having a system in place for networking success. Every week, set a networking goal of introducing three people in a powerful way, then disappearing like Letterman. Sometimes by hosting a networking lunch, and if you’re busy, by making three-way e-mail introductions.
When I first talk to clients about their marketing activities, I often recommend that their first priority be to expand their network and focus on building quality relationships. In fact I refused to work with an accountant whose business was in serious trouble because he refused to do the #1 activity that would have gained him more clients. Yes, you guessed it. Build his network!
To get top class results in business, we must surround ourselves with like-minded people. Mind-set and emotions are highly contagious and we are unconsciously influenced by those around us. The ‘Law of Association’ says:
- Our income generally is the median income of the 10 people we spend most of our time with.
- Our levels of motivation are very similar to those of the people in our social circle.
- Our ability to execute our goals and achieve our dreams is a lot like the “execution intelligence” of our friends and associates.
- Our lifestyle reflects the lifestyles of the people we surround ourselves with.
- And our overall beliefs and happiness levels are a mirror of the beliefs of the people we associate with most of the time.
When I left my CEO role, I had the uncomfortable realisation that my network was going to have to change significantly if I wanted to run a successful business. Because I’d been working such long hours for a number of years, I didn’t actually know that many people outside of my job. Worse still, my business relationships had been more transactional than relational – and there were a few ‘naysayers’ among my friends who I felt didn’t support my business aspiration. So I set about changing my network. Initially I simply set an intention to change my network and build quality relationships with people I admired, liked and trusted. The ‘how’ would take care of itself.
Although the path ahead was not clear at that time, looking back I can now understand the route I took and the riches this has yielded in my life over the past three years. Here are 7 ways we can change our network:
1. Recognise That The People We Allow Into Our Life Shape It
I started with the understanding that the influence of those around us is powerful and that, according to Napoleon Hill of ‘Think & Grow Rich,’ “The most common weakness of all human beings is the habit of leaving their minds open to the negative influence of other people.”
Over time I’ve put together a list of mentors whose examples influence me on a regular basis. I read books written by business leaders and study how they have become experts in their field. I listen to podcasts and watch videos produced by leadership experts to find out the secrets of their success. Where I can, I go to events and conferences where they’re speaking because it’s here that I find other like-minded people
2. Take Time Out For Self-Reflection
I asked myself the following, often challenging, questions:
- Who do I spend the most time with?
- What do we spend our time doing, talking about, listening to and how does this affect how I think, what I read and what I say?
- What effect does this have on me?
- Is this association okay with me? What is the likely consequence if I continue with this association in its current form?
- Who do I need to limit my association with and who do I need to dissociate from? How can I do this in a compassionate way?
- Who would I like to meet? What do I need to change about myself? Who do I need to become?
3. Question What Holds Us Back
As a child, I was incredibly shy and fearful of putting myself in social situations. Friends are always surprised when I tell them this but it took me years to come out of my shell. I reflected on the legacy of my shyness – a dislike of being in group situations for example – and thought about ways in which I could do things differently. For example by adopting a more positive mental attitude and having a few simple strategies for initiating conversations up my sleeve. And I challenged myself to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ because I knew this would build my confidence and bring its own rewards.
4. Follow Our Interests and Passions
I figured that I was more likely to build an authentic network if I followed my interests and passions. These included gaining a better understanding of what makes business owners and entrepreneurs tick, and nurturing my burgeoning interest in yoga and living a more spiritually fulfilling life. So ask yourself what are your 3 main interests and passions, and where can you meet other people who share these.
5. Filter Out What Isn’t Right For Us
I went to a number of different networking groups, until I settled on ones that were right for me. In the image above, I’ve shared a list of the Business Junction events I’m going to this week to expand my network.There are numerous networking groups out there. Great places to start are Find Networking Events, Chambers of Commerce, the Rotary Club and Toastmasters. I haven’t tried these myself but other ways of building relationships are through co-working, Jellies and business hubs such as Seed.
6. Connect With People On Social Media
I use LinkedIn to connect with everybody I meet in a professional capacity, as it functions very much like a Rolodex and means that I can easily get in touch with people in the future. I connect with people on a more personal level via Facebook, meaning that I can maintain contact and nurture relationships. I haven’t always been a great fan of Twitter, but more recently I’ve started using it to connect with people in my industry that I respect and would like to meet some day.
If you haven’t done so already, I’d love for you to join my Facebook community of entrepreneurs.
7. Help More People
I love helping people so I get a lot of pleasure in finding out what I can to enable the people I meet to realise their goals. I do a lot of 1:1s and Skype coffee chats. I’m always looking at who I can introduce to one another because there are natural synergies between their businesses or because they have asked for the skills of somebody in my network.
Join the Conversation
Questions: What’s your top tip for building a great network? What are you going to do differently going forward? If you decide to follow Elmer Letterman’s example, I’d love to hear how you get on! Do leave a comment for me in the box below, and share this post through social media.
Explore Additional Resources
If you enjoyed this post, then you may also like:
- What’s Going To Be Different in 2016?
- Why It’s So Important To Have A Team Of Mentors
- The Law Of Association
Prior to becoming a business consultant and coach, I have 25 years’ experience in business, including 8 years as a former CEO. This experience is backed up by training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. With experience in business planning, financial management, risk management, building strategic partnerships, product development, marketing (including PR) plus leading and developing staff teams of up to 150 people, there’s very little I haven’t had to deal with or experienced.
You can find out more about working with me HERE. Or alternatively email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an informal chat over coffee. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching or business consultancy would be a good fit for your business, the results you can expect and how to get started.
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE 2017 FINANCIAL SUCCESS KICKSTARTER
Enter your email to get exclusive access to my FREE financial success kickstarter. This planner and short e-course will give you all the help you need to prepare your 2017 financial plan.