Connections. Everyone in business knows they’re important – even vital to success. And every small business owners has connections of some kind. The key is to put those connections to work in ways and places that really count.

One thing that sets the most successful business owners and startup entrepreneurs apart is their ability to leverage connections. If you can build strong relationships with clients, customers, vendors, advisors, investors and others, your business will almost certainly grow. 

So how can you make this happen? First off, gather your strategies and tactics and start changing the way you work. Even if you’re a “lone wolf” type, the idea is to forge better business relationships and a network that will stick with you and voluntarily recommend you to others.

If you’re ready to ramp it up, here are some tactics that can yield results:

1. Plan your connection priorities

Sometimes business relationships happen naturally over time. But mostly they’re built. Don’t worry if you’re not a “people person.” That’s not important. It’s not about charm. It’s about being aware of the relationships you are forming. Start with categories of people who are important to your success, such as clients, vendors and colleagues. Then move on to listing specific individuals in those categories and some ideas for connecting with each of them.

2. Ask what you can do for others.

In other words, it’s not just about you. The urge to look out for Number One can be overwhelming when business success is at stake. But true success will elude you until you learn to ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?”   

When your connections know that they really matter to you, and that you’re willing to help them, their attitudes change. Their respect for you grows, they'll work harder for you and be more aligned with your goals.   

3. Don’t just network, work with your network.

Technology has made networking seem almost too easy. Social media tools, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others, let anyone create a giant web of business relationships. But that can be an illusion.

But a large online "network" of people you barely know (or don’t know at all) doesn't do you much good just sitting there. In order to truly leverage business connections, you've got to put in some effort. Try these strategies for keeping in touch:

  • Relentless follow-up: Have a system for following up after a meeting, call or contact with an individual or a business. This could be an email, phone call, or social media contact.
  • Periodic individual contact: Initiate connections periodically with people on your list to stay in touch, and maintain the relationship.
  • Communication campaigns: Target a subgroup within your network (clients, prospects, etc.) when you have something you particularly want them to know.

4. Make it personal

When you meet with a customer or client, resist the urge to make it all about your product or service. You’re there to talk about the client and what’s important to them. When you are only focused on selling something, the meeting is all about you.

Instead of merely extolling the virtues of your product (which, by the way, might imply the prospect chose badly in the past), find out what's important to them. Ask questions, and actively listen to what they want. Try to understand where they are coming from as completely as you can.

5. Be connection-worthy and “referable” yourself. 

If you want others to connect with you and send referrals, first make yourself “referable.” If customers aren’t recommending you, there may be a disconnect somewhere. 

Try developing a survey to gain insights. Ask about perceptions of quality, time spent on the project, response to problems, willingness to go the extra mile, and what stood out. You may discover things you can do differently that can move the needle. Customers will feel you've taken time to form a relationship with them, and they'll be more inclined to tell others about your business.

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About the Author(s)

 Daniel  Kehrer

Daniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. 

Founder & Managing Director, BizBest
5 Ways to Cash in on Business Connections