05/05/2015 03:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 3 Best Ways to Become a Highly Connected Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs, we understand the power of connection -- how building meaningful relationships can result in huge and sometimes unexpected wins for our businesses. We've all had that experience.

And yet, too many of us struggle to intentionally create the types of connections that can fuel our success and take us to the next level. Connection feels like something that happens haphazardly instead of a resource we can harness.

Michael Simmons wants to change that. Michael's efforts as co-founder of the heralded company Empact -- which specializes in entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurial mindset, innovation and leadership events -- and as a hugely popular Forbes columnist covering relationship building in the digital age have made him one of the world's top strategists in how to create connections that are both authentic and highly beneficial to business owners.

Here are three of his best tips for growing your opportunities by becoming a highly connected entrepreneur.


1. Share your story, warts and all. Vulnerability -- being open, forthcoming and honest about yourself -- is one of the most powerful forces there is when it comes to building connections with others. This is true regardless of whether it's a personal or business relationship. People will relate to you better if they can see you as a whole person with positive and negative experiences. The opposite is also true: If you present only an idealized version of yourself to others, you'll actually repel people and end up with fewer meaningful relationships.

The upshot: Be willing to show yourself honestly to others. Every entrepreneur should develop his or her own "personal story" and be willing to share it openly. Your story should convey not just the successes you've achieved, but also the failures you've encountered on your journey and the challenges you still face -- and how those stumbling blocks helped influence why you do what you do.

This can be difficult advice for entrepreneurs, many of whom equate toughness and an iron-clad exterior with business savvy and success. We worry that if people find out who we really are underneath or if we show any signs of "weakness," they'll distance themselves from us. Not true, says Simmons. If we share the ups and downs of our situations, people become more attracted to us than if we try to present ourselves as infallible and possessing the Midas touch. (Studies also suggest that by openly sharing important emotional life events, we also increase our level of health -- not a bad side benefit!)

2. Be Habitually Generous. Regularly giving your time, energy, advice and support helps you build and strengthen relationships in a wide variety of ways. This makes intuitive sense, of course, but we often hesitate to be generous because we fear our already limited time will be sucked away from us if we put ourselves out there for others too much.

No need to worry. Generosity doesn't have to mean grand gestures that take lots of time. Simmons cites the example of the entrepreneur and "superconnector" Adam Rifkin, who recommends developing a habit of offering daily "five minute favors" -- things you can do every day to help people that take just a few minutes. Some examples include:

  • Share one interesting bit of knowledge with a contact.
  • Introduce two people you know who might benefit by knowing each other.
  • Endorse someone on LinkedIn.
  • Point out a broken hyperlink or typo you notice on a website.

This is all easy stuff that won't eat away at your day. More important, when you act generously toward others, the law of reciprocity kicks in -- it's human nature that the people you help will feel compelled to do something that might help you in the future. Doing just one five-minute favor every day gets you into a pattern that eventually leads to you having a community of people around you who can benefit your business and your life.

3. Create and share your expertise. Communicating your expertise and insights through blog posts, articles, white papers, podcasts, webinars, videos and other channels is becoming one of the best ways to build connections. This type of thought leadership content not only shows your authority, but also helps you rise above the competition (most of whom aren't creating any content) and achieve a certain level of celebrity that attracts people to you.

The reason, of course, is the Internet. By posting your insights on LinkedIn and other outlets and then promoting your work via social media channels, you become easily findable by millions of potential contacts simply through a Google search. Simmons notes that, going forward, an online presence that shows your expertise will be table stakes. That's because our reputations increasingly are being built and enhanced online, and content is becoming a major driver of that reputation. Simmons believes that in the future, people will actually view you with suspicion if you don't have a compelling online presence -- and instead make connections with those entrepreneurs who do.

"It will be a bit like going to look up a restaurant on Yelp and not seeing any reviews," says Simmons "Are you going to go to that restaurant or are you pick the one with five-stars and lots of people saying great things about it?"

Every day at AES Nation, top entrepreneurs share their top strategies, tactics and advice for achieving the highest levels of success and performance in business and in life.