Every entrepreneur and business leader needs something -- money, information, technology, relationships or whatever. Unless that something is the elixir of life itself, chances are someone else can provide it for you. And when you’re connected to a trusted and tight-knit network, the resources you need are typically only an email or phone call away.
Forming strategic partnerships not only creates a powerful reciprocal network, but also propels you toward your goals, exposes you to new insights and optimizes the time and energy you invest in relationships. And these advantages work both ways.
Showing up at networking events is a good start, but it isn’t enough to develop and strengthen strategic alliances that will connect you with the right resources. To build smarter partnerships, consider these time-tested tips:
1. Overcome 'small business syndrome.'
Dedicating myself to fostering meaningful partnerships has paid dividends throughout my career. I’ve had the chance to learn from powerful business mentors and people I’ve admired, including Steve Jobs and Alan Weiss. But I never let my company’s lean size reflect or dictate the value I had to offer, and you shouldn’t either.
Colossal companies stand to learn from startups, too. They often can’t enjoy the same flexibility as startups and become so entrenched in an established routine or a set dogma that it immobilizes them. As a result, that initial buzz and crucial connection to users fizzles. Remember the unique spark you bring to your own business and trust that any partnership would benefit from it.
2. Investigate your hidden barriers.
Remember that you’re half of the partnership. To create a mutually beneficial relationship, your side of the bargain must be compelling in and of itself. Unfortunately, insecurities and blind spots have a way of sabotaging you when you least expect it.
So work on building your confidence. Don’t focus on what you don’t know how to do. Instead, be honest with yourself and accept opportunities to try new things. Then, practice until you feel more confident. Ask others for support and feedback, and learn from it.
3. Find a trusted advisor.
When a seasoned industry player has your back, you’ll gain a renewed sense of confidence and perspective that will translate into business opportunities. Connect with someone who cares about you and your business success to act as a sounding board and confidante. Look for someone with expertise in your field, then set some ground rules and open up a candid feedback loop.
This person doesn’t need to have the same worldview or industry experience as you, but he or she must know you well, be willing and able to offer advice and criticism and enthusiastically open doors for you when an opportunity arises.
4. Map out a web of connections.
Look to successful blogs, social media accounts and the informal business grapevine to home in on influential leaders in your field. Then, identify connections you already know who could possibly give you a warm introduction. When you ask your network for introductions or referrals, be sure to convey how it’s a win for all parties.
Before connecting with influencers, you need to spend time considering what success means to them. What are they looking for? What drives them? Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know directly as long as you’re prepared to offer them something valuable -- the foundation for any rewarding relationship to flourish. Always think in terms of delivering value.
5. See your connections in a broader scope.
At Apple, I had one of the most memorable and incredible team experiences of my career. Apple’s culture thrives on collaboration and the strength of its shared vision and mission among its employees. But it also values entrepreneurship and the power of the individual and the idea. Apple’s magic stems from its appreciation for both the self and the collective. Neither can thrive without the other.
If you inject this philosophy into your networking approach, you’ll gain an acute sense for each individual you encounter and start making meaningful connections within your network.
You don’t need to schmooze every big-name leader to create a valuable network. In fact, the strongest networks are rarely the largest. By forming strategic, symbiotic partnerships and graciously exchanging resources, your network can become greater than the sum of its parts.