As the adage goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. When you’re looking for a job, that sure feels like the case — after all, a LinkedIn survey shows that 85% of open job positions are filled through networking. When it comes to succeeding in the startup world, the recipe is similar. Relationships are the cornerstone of a successful business, helping you earn the interest of important investors, acquire customers, and reach your full potential. Why are relationships so important? Because no matter what business you’re in, you can’t possibly go it alone.
Building a business takes a team of employees, partners, consultants, and clients. These people can help you accomplish your goals, but only if you value their contributions and treat them with respect. If you fail to nurture these relationships, it will sabotage your efforts, no matter how much work you put into creating your product or service.
To find startup success, follow these three steps to give your relationships the attention they deserve.
1. Look for ways to help your partners.
Every partnership is a two-way street, but startups don’t always see it that way. “For startups seeking investment, landing capital can begin to feel like the endgame,” says Dan Lauer, founding executive director at UMSL Accelerate. “But remember: Established companies are expecting something out of a partnership, too. Older companies are always looking for fresh perspectives, and startups usually have innovative ideas to contribute. It’s important to clearly communicate what each partner brings to the table.”
Just because your company is getting off the ground doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer. Advantages like a flat organizational structure and a tight-knit team lend themselves to incredible agility — something many larger organizations lack. To determine what you can bring to a relationship, approach meetings with partners by keeping their needs in mind. This strategy will help you serve others while accomplishing your own goals.
2. Broaden and diversify your networks.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of only connecting with people like us — people in similar industries, with similar roles, at similar stages in their careers. These homogenous networks, however, are far less effective. Chris Stricklin, chief growth officer at executive coaching firm General Leadership, points out how important it is to connect with people outside your normal sphere. “If everyone in your network thinks like you, you only need one person in your network,” he says. In contrast, a well-rounded circle of connections enhances your ability to gain new ideas and perspectives.
So take deliberate action to connect with a wide range of people, whether it’s reaching out to someone you follow on social media or setting up a meeting with one of your best customers. “Be deliberate in developing connections with professionals and experts in other industries,” Stricklin advises. “Read articles and comment to open the conversation. This simple gesture of reaching out is how to best connect.” Once you forge those connections, nurture the most important relationships — give as much as you hope to get out of them.
3. Connect your brand to a cause.
According to the new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” issued by the Business Roundtable, a group of 181 CEOs at the world’s largest companies, the days of shareholder primacy are over. Today, companies that want to be successful must recognize their responsibility to other groups, including their employees, supply chain partners, and the communities in which they operate. The statement’s declaration isn’t surprising, considering 90% of consumers expect companies to go beyond profit and address social and environmental issues.
With so many consumers demanding that companies demonstrate corporate social responsibility, investors are following suit. Impact investments — investments made with the aim of producing measurable positive social and environmental impact — exceed expectations of both financial return and social benefit more often than they fall short. Connecting your own startup to a cause will open doors and allow you to add influential individuals to your network who can broaden your reach and help you leave a lasting mark.
When it comes to nurturing a network, some entrepreneurs make the mistake of opting for quantity over quality. Starting a business demands an incredible amount of time, and you need to be realistic about how many meaningful relationships you can sustain at once.
Think about your network like a sports team, with each member filling a specific role. When you have a full roster, it’s fine to occasionally bench a player without cutting him or her entirely, but you don’t need a bench that outnumbers your starters 10 to one. Focus on helping the individuals who have something valuable to offer in return, and you’ll have a much easier time creating an effective, lasting network.