January 25, 2023

We spend the formative years of our lives growing up and getting an education and our parents and teachers seem to focus on building ‘what we know’ but they rarely touch on the importance of building ‘who we know’ ‘. Perhaps there should be classes in high school and college that teach students the benefits of creating a powerful network. At one time or another, we’ve heard the popular slogan, “it’s who you know, not what you know.” Who you know may matter more, or at least be just as important as what you know when getting career or job referrals. Here’s why.

For most companies, especially startups, looking for new employees, they turn to their current employees for employee referrals. According to Zippia, a career research website, current employee referrals represent 30-40% or more of all new hires. Employee referrals improve retention as employees move to a workplace where they are already familiar with at least one person and have some understanding of the company culture. Increased retention isn’t just about candidates; current employees who successfully refer also stay with the same company longer. So, how do you build a network that will eventually get you a referral or help you recruit employees for your startup?

The first thing to do is to change your mindset and focus on people, not opportunities. People see it when you only approach them for your own personal gain. You may get the specific thing you wanted, but they will remember your self-centeredness and be less likely to pass on future opportunities to you. The way to do this is to consider who you want to target and what value you could offer them. Can you share research, industry advice, or perhaps introduce them to someone who could be useful to them or their business? To make your plan for building a strong network a reality, you need to identify very specific types of people and then focus on identifying and selecting those specific people to start building your network with purpose.

Here’s a potential framework of the network you could purposefully build depending on your career or startup aspirations.

Mentor with relevant experience. If you want to become a marketing expert or even create a startup company, choose your potential mentor accordingly. If it’s marketing, try hiring a marketing expert. If you want to build a startup business one day, recruit an experienced entrepreneur.

Industry research expert. There is a real benefit to getting guidance if you are targeting a particular industry. If you think you want to work in cloud software or even start a new SaaS business, target a cloud or SasS industry expert who can keep you updated with research or trending data.

Marketing expert. If at some point in your career you plan to create a startup business, you need to have someone in your network who is a branding or marketing expert. So many companies have failed, not because of the product or service they created, but because they didn’t have the right branding or marketing campaigns to get them to market faster.

Financial expert. Understanding the numbers and ratios that are critical for a business to grow and succeed is extremely important. Having a financial expert in your network can help you avoid simple mistakes, perhaps better understand cash flow, and perhaps even leverage certain partners to reduce your financial risk. This person also has other experts in their network, possibly even investors who can help fund your startup.

Technology expert. Technology plays a strong role in almost every business in existence today and will be critical to future businesses. Even if the company’s product or service is not technology-related, it will need to leverage next-generation wireless, cloud, security, operations, and employee management technologies to keep the company running efficiently.

Specific expert. Based on your career or startup aspirations, you should recruit a specific expert to your network with key industry or skill knowledge. For example, say you want to set up an e-commerce business. Having an e-commerce expert with several years of experience in your network allows you to learn quickly, avoid simple mistakes, and use the right strategy and tools to grow quickly.

Competitive peers. While most people may not choose to have colleagues from competing companies in their network, networking is about building relationships, including people in your business category. Your “competitors” may have the same business problems as you and have learned how to deal with those problems so that you can learn from each other. They can also make great business friends because they understand you better than people who are not in your company.

You have two choices. It is precisely through everyday life and random connections, acquaintances and encounters that you build a network. It can be good or it can be weak. Your other choice is to purposely build a network that can fuel your career, your startup, and maybe even your life.

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