As business owners, entrepreneurs and freelancers we tackle projects, client challenges and keeping up with social media. We also experience improving sales, new clients, connecting with like-minded people, opportunities for growth and collaboration, and celebrating our successes.
I’ve been a solopreneur for more than 19 years. I've worked alone most of my career as a business owner. I attend networking events and belong to Chambers of Commerce. I even lead several professional networking organizations. Over the years, I have built a massive network of professionals from all walks of life. Some would say that I am super connected. Knowing a lot of people wasn’t always beneficial until I Iearned how to leverage the connections.
Leveraging connections with good intention can produce powerful positive results. Intention is the key. Knowing what to do to deepen relationships will help you leverage your network. Here are 5 simple ways to start connecting on a whole new level.
Create Strategic Alliances
When you and a connection share a target market, you can share marketing expenses, refer business to one another (with a 10% referral fee of course), and partner on projects for a shared client.
Give first without expecting anything in return is a rule that I live by. Give a referral to someone without expecting one in return will strengthen the connection between you and a colleague. It also feels good along the way. What you sow now, you will reap later on.
Another way I deepen a relationship is by being a resource. This can be done in several ways. Offer yourself as a mentor. Share pertinent industry information through articles you have read. Send the link via email and say something like: “Thought you’d enjoy this article. Hope things are going well.”
Be a Connector
You can also connect one person to another for the purpose of mentorship, information, or as a professional relationship. This is different than sending a referral for a client. This is about connecting people who need to know each other in one form or another but not about selling to each other. You could introduce two people who are from the same home town or have worked at a similar company along the way.
To me, this is the number one thing I have come to appreciate as a business owner and an entrepreneur. When I collaborate I am no longer alone. As I look at my network I now see people in which to collaborate. I get excited about who I can invite into a project, a conversation, a meeting, a networking event. I leverage their knowledge, wisdom and experiences to improve myself and my business. Mostly importantly, I go deeper with my connections, turning them into relationships.
Collaboration is the art of sharing. When you have an idea and I have an idea and we share them with each other, we now have two ideas. When we share an idea and invite collaboration, the potential for the idea to succeed is greater. Inviting input from others may alter our original idea for the better.
I facilitate collaborations with people all the time. By this I mean that I bring people together to work on a project or work together in some way. I listen intently in conversations seeking small hints of a need or a pain point. I may ask a few clarifying questions to uncover the deeper need and then I leverage my network by connecting two people together. I encourage sharing ideas and especially experiences as I believe we are all going through the same things. Maybe not at the same time but an accounting problem that one person struggled with and solved, will surely come up to another.
Why then do we not collaborate more? Fear? Lack of opportunity?
Let's talk about fear first. I am guilty of holding my cards close to the vest. I have been burned by people in my network, multiple times. I’ve had ideas stolen, ideas trampled upon and not-so-nice people say and do things behind my back to undermine my authority. Yes, I still get afraid to share and to collaborate. I am very aware of it. I do a gut check quite frequently to determine if my fear is taking over or if my spidey senses are acutely aware that this person or situation is not good for me. I’ve worked hard to discern the difference and to trust my gut when I get that icky feeling about someone. Trust yourself and don’t let fear lead.
Are there lack of opportunities to collaborate with others? Yes and no. I like to look at it like this. Some people do not know how to collaborate or even what it means. They are caught up with what they know about doing business and they don’t know any other way. Others are not open to it and that’s their loss altogether. Steer clear of them. Your gut will tell you right away. Hint: very salesly, not interested in you at all. Consider also that you are seeking collaboration. Take the first step. Reach out to someone in your network to discuss how you can collaborate together. Pick someone you liked immediately and that will support you as you learn. It’s a give-give situation. If you give of yourself, most other people will open up and give of themselves.
Be a collaborator. It’s not a bad word when used for good. Leverage your network and be a collaborator.
Ensemble is a collaborative business community and coworking space in Fort Worth, Texas. We offer busy entrepreneurs, small businesses and remote workers a warm and welcoming place to be productive, to connect and collaborate while being part of a community.