Networking gets a bad rap, and for good reason. There are far too many people roaming around calling their selfish antics “networking,” and as a result, giving it a bad name.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll continue to carry the torch for relationships over transactions and adding more value than you extract from life.
So, I spoke with six CEOs who grew their businesses via their networks, yet avoided the ever-present pitfalls of coming off as “spammy” (you know, like adding everyone you know to your email list, inundating people’s social media feeds with your sales pitch, harassing people with your business card at first interaction, and ruthlessly getting your point across with little care for the other participant). While this may not feel like you (and I hope sincerely it’s not), even if you’re not on this extreme, it can be tricky to navigate the spectrum of “spammy” to “unspammy.”
So, how do these CEOs do it?
1. Lead with curiosity.
Jonathan Gass, founder & CEO of Nomad Financial shares, “When I meet someone, I focus on understanding his/her values, passions, goals, and current needs. I look for ways to support endeavors, and show real care for them as a person. As I launched and built my company, these same people were there to support me, as well.”
Yes! Always lead with a genuine curiosity about someone else. It’s the fastest way to find kinship, connect authentically, and lay a foundation for a longer-term relationship.
2. Give away your genius.
“In essence, I give away my best stuff. When we give away the absolutely most useful and valuable assets of what we are selling, it’s counterintuitive. You think, ‘If I give this away, then no one will buy X, Y and Z,’ but you will be wrong! The truth is that, people love good people, and to be a good person you have to want to share all of yourself and all of your value. Money comes from so many places and there is an endless supply, so you don’t need to penny-pinch your insights or gifts. You can basically just give it away and the reward will be surprising,” shares Biet Simkin, founder of Center of the Cyclone Meditation.
She’s right, it does sound counterintuitive, but it works. Start with a small test like sharing on your LinkedIn or Instagram account some of your biggest insights and gifts. See how it feels and how people will be attracted to your knowledge and generosity, and in turn, some will come back inquiring about how to buy more. If you sell a physical product, it’s likely that you have insights into the industry and the problem that drives people to use it, which you can share.
3. Co-create, ask for small support, and pay it forward.
“My network supports and shares the work I am doing because there’s a link to their common values, as well as a sense of co-creation. I started my company based on ninety challenges friends and strangers gave me, and to this day, these original contributors remain big supporters. It feels as if there’s a shared sense of ownership and shared experience, as they’ve witnessed a crazy personal project turn into a business,” says Cara Thomas, founder & CEO of Serenflipity.
She continues, “I try never to ask directly for shout-outs or mentions. Instead, I ask if they would consider sharing with a few friends, if they know anyone who might be a good fit, or if they have a story I could share. I try to keep a good karma loop by giving to someone every time I receive a favor or support from someone else.”
There’s something special to the karmic retribution of giving in this way. Someone helps you, so you turn around and help someone else. Thus, the cycle continues.
4. Create real relationships and people will truly want to support.
Bombas cofounder & CEO Dave Heath shares, “Create genuine relationships in which the people in your network care about what you are doing, want to support you, and you support them in return. So, when you update them on your brand, its progress, or ask for a favor, people feel invested in you and your company. A lot of people in my network surprised me by becoming some of our best customers and supporters.”
Create relationships with no intention of manipulating an outcome, and you’ll be surprised at the dividends it pays!
5. Be a good human (and provide value).
“My business is 100% a result of my network,” explains Virginia Salas Kastillo, CEO of Gini.TV.
“I have never run an ad, boosted a post, or hired an influencer to promote it. Not being spammy is an art. Most people get so excited about their business, they just want to shout out about it to the world and instant message every person they’ve ever met. The art is having your network come to you. How do you do this? You provide value. You make it very clear what you and your team are capable of. Your network and your reputation are everything, so make sure that you respect and love everyone, no matter of their status. Be a good human. That’s what it’s about in the end.”
What’s the point of building a business if in your endeavor to do so, you burn all your bridges along the way?
6. Make introductions, share content, and offer feedback.
“I cultivated an enviable network in a really organic way, out of a natural curiosity and love of people, showing up in service to others rather than seeing how they could benefit me, and giving without expectation of reciprocation. I made valuable introductions, shared their content, gave advice and supported them however I could. My business is an extension of myself, so when it was time to grow my business, my network naturally wanted to support me,” says Jackie Knechtel, cofounder of the Flow Consciousness Institute.
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