For better or for worse, it's not just what you know or what you can do, it's who you know. In fact, who you know can sometimes be more important than your qualifications. Some doors simply can't be opened without an existing relationship or strong introduction. An introduction serves as a filtering mechanism -- if there is a common connection, it is automatically assumed you have some level of credibility. Personal relationships also help to close deals. People prefer to do business with people they like and trust.
Below are some core principles to help you meet and build professional relationships.
In social life, people spend time with people that are fun, friendly, funny, etc. In business life, people will spend time with people they see as being, or potentially being, valuable to their career. To meet awesome people, you must be awesome yourself. If you want to meet venture capitalists, start an awesome company and they will be eager to meet with you. Always make the effort to listen and understand, but when appropriate, don't be afraid to drop a humble brag. Invite people to join you in activities that they can learn from, have fun at, or otherwise benefit from.
Find ways to add value to others without expecting anything in return. When you do something for someone else that helps them in some way, they naturally want to reciprocate. In addition, by helping people in your network, your network gets stronger, and therefore you get stronger. Busy people often won't take meetings unless they know there could be some benefit. Make relevant and mutually beneficial introductions. Share your advice, expertise, or feedback. Share information such as events, articles or research that they would find helpful. Promote your contacts' work by sharing it with people you know.
Identify the types of people you want to meet and ask people you're close with for introductions. Identify specific people you want to meet and locate them on LinkedIn. If you have any shared connections, ask him/her for an introduction. An introduction from a trusted friend, is much better than a cold call or e-mail. It adds rapport and credibility because you share a common relationship. If you don't have a shared connection, send your target a short, personalized and value offering cold e-mail.
Be proactive about creating opportunities. Attend conferences, events, and classes relevant to your industry. Say yes to invitations to parties, events, and even meetings. Join groups related to your personal and professional interests. Send e-mails to people you haven't talked to in a while. Manufacture serendipity.
Reach a wide audience and be visible to your existing network by writing a blog that delivers value to readers and displays your expertise. Maintain a concise LinkedIn profile that makes it easy for people to find you, and quickly learn who you are. Get public speaking engagements on your topic of expertise to reach a relevant audience. Use Twitter to publicly communicate with people around shared interests.
Successful business relationships don't happen by just exchanging business cards. They take time to build. Continually ping your contacts, offer value, and hang out with them in person. Focus on building relationships with good people, rather than just job titles; good people learn and grow. Play the long game. Dig your well before you're thirsty, because relationships take a long time to build.
Meeting and building relationships with awesome people takes a lot of time and effort, but the benefits in terms of learning from others and opening doors can be invaluable.