Teamwork is an activity that used to fill me with dread at University. From the students that couldn’t be bothered to the ones that couldn’t speak English – I think we’ve all had enough experience of team players being more of a burden than an asset. Despite this, I’ve always been a big believer in people. I like to invest my time with friends and colleagues to build strong relationships. Fundamentally, I’m a big believer in the importance of relationship building and having a good network.
This relationship building approach has served me well and consequently, I find myself blessed with great friends and colleagues to whom I can turn to for advice and guidance on a whole range of issues which I know very little about. Whenever I’m exploring a new opportunity, I usually contact two or three trusted contacts to run questions past (usually in exchange for a dinner or coffee). This has led to a whole range of useful benefits for me, including increased efficiency, improved planning capabilities, a wider knowledge base and the ability to develop strong communication skills.
A recent example of where my network has come into play was an investment opportunity I was presented in Fine Wines. I’ve never actually invested in Fine Wine, but this opportunity sounded fantastic – a great vintage at a 20% discount, free bonding and a strong opportunity for capital appreciation.
How having a good network helped me
The first thing I did was to take detailed notes of everything the salesman told me in the initial call. I then contacted my accountant to check the tax benefits which had been presented to me, as well as a contact from University to advise on the specifics of the wine investment.
Interestingly, this contact had heard a lot of buzz about this vintage – it was selling like hotcakes, but for around the price per case that I was being offered, indicating that the 20% discount was nonsense. In addition to this, my contact was uncertain about how liquid the market was – the buzz around the vintage had only been going about six months, indicating to me that it was too early to tell whether the vintage would appreciate or not.
Between the two of them, I was supplied with a list of about 50 questions I needed answers to – which surprisingly, the salesman was unable to answer. To me, if a salesman struggles to answer more than two or three questions about their product, then they don’t know it sufficiently well to sell – and I certainly can’t ascertain whether it’s worth placing money in.
I\’m not confident I would have been able to evaluate this opportunity without having a strong network and being able to reach out and ask for advice was crucial to avoid making a mistake.
Tips for building a strong network
Focus on the right people. The secret to building a strong network isn’t to hand out as many business cards as you possibly can. It’s not to send 5 emails a week to new people or connect with a new person every day on LinkedIn. Instead, try concentrating on the people who you know can make a difference to you; who have the information which you don’t, and whose approach to life complements your own.
Broadly speaking, these people will fall into one of two categories;
- People who support experts
As an example, let\’s assume you’re seeking information on buying a wine investment. Your goal is to acquire a £250,000 collection and have it appreciate in value over a period of 20 years.
In this scenario, an expert would be someone who already owns a fine wine portfolio. A supporting professional might be an experienced wine salesman who helps to source wine for clients with a similar goal.
Gather a list of these individuals. They could be a combination of local and international contacts; thanks to tools like LinkedIn and Twitter, these are now more accessible than ever before. They might include;
- Two local experts
- One international expert
- A lawyer who specialises in fine wine transactions
- A fine wine broker
- An accountant who helps analyse the numbers for fine wine investors
These individuals will help to furnish you with the information you don’t have. In addition to their expertise, they may also have other contacts that can provide you with other information and opportunities.
Create value for others. It doesn’t happen very often, but I’m occasionally asked for my time by people I’ve never met before. Unless I can quickly identify what’s in it for me, I’m unlikely to respond. When building your network, it’s highly important that both you and the other part gain value. If you consistently benefit more than the other party, it won’t be long before they feel used and walk away. The key to building long-term relationships in your network is to always give back.
Make introductions. You don’t always have to gain something from every interaction. If you can introduce people who will benefit from each other, you’re making a highly valuable contribution to your relationship. By building rapport with multiple people, you become the ‘go-to guy’ for making connections and fixing problems.
Avoid artificial networking. We’ve all come across those individuals who reach out to us after months of silence. When that happens, we typically want to avoid returning the contact as they haven’t made any effort to keep in touch with us. A strong network requires constant communication to maintain the relationships within it.
Make use of social networks. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all fantastic tools for making quick connections with different people in our networks. The key to success here is not to rely on these tools as a replacement for face-to-face, personal communication. It takes me five minutes to snap a photo and post it to Facebook. People know this, and consequently won’t value it as highly as if I take the time to call them on a Monday evening.
Networking is an important skill to develop. Focusing on building a useful network in an authentic way is key to success. Your overarching objective should be to create lasting relationships with people who can help to build your knowledge and understanding. It\’s invaluable to have a set of contacts you can call or email at a moment’s notice for guidance and advice.
By providing as much value (if not more) than you gain, you’ll quickly discover how helpful people can be. I try to take the time to get to know everyone I meet; to be polite and considerate towards everyone (even if they don’t return the favour!). I\’ve always believed this is the best approach, and I hope this article has inspired you to take the time to get to know those around you and build yourself a strong network.