Becoming the best collaborator and networker you can involves a lot of work. It’s not who you know – or even who knows you – which adds the most value to your startup.

Effective collaborators are valuable for every business. They open doors to new team members, resources, funding opportunities and customers.

They are also a potential conduit to find new skills, methods and tools you didn’t know about or could never hope to discover on your own.

We’ve been introduced to people we wouldn’t normally meet who have helped grow our business in extraordinary ways.

For example, our advisory board comprises five of the most capable people on the planet.

Each one of them is exceptional at what they do. And four of them were introduced by people we helped with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

In fact, most of our team came onboard after introductions in the same way.

All of the people we identified as our early hires were recommendations from people we have collaborated with. All our partners have been introduced to us by others.

So, this experience tells us that the most productive collaborators usually have one other vital skill – the ability to connect with people.

Connecting other people in a network – for no immediate material reward – is a natural gift for the best collaborators.

Why become a great connector?

There are many reasons, including altruism, self-interest, or even a belief in paying-it-forward.

One of the important truths we’ve learned is that there are inescapable hidden laws of the universe. They apply to you – and everyone you know – and they work whether you know, understand or believe in them or not.

It’s works a little like the law of gravity because you know it’s there even if you don’t fully understand it’s power. We call it the law of reciprocity.

Give to receive concept.

“In order to receive, you must first give.”

Daniel Mumby

The unusual thing about this law is – unlike responding to an email – you don’t always give back to the same person you receive from.

We receive calls every week from people in our network asking me if we know someone who has specific skills to help them with something.

The same questions pop up in a lot of other conversations.  In the middle of a call with a peer, we often discuss current challenges.

“So you are trying to do A, B & C, but you don’t know how or with who? We know someone who specialises in doing precisely that – and they can help you address it by doing 1,2,3…..”

A common call scenario at The Starting Block

In fact, very few calls pass by without leading to a mutual introduction.

How to become a great connector?

It’s hard to pinpoint whether its more art or science. But we do know that becoming a great connector requires a focus on three things:-

  1. Its all about people: The people who are trying to get from A to B must have confidence you know someone well who can help them do it faster.
  2. Understanding what they want, need and value. Respecting them for their perspectives, views, and beliefs – especially when they differ from your own.
  3. It’s always about trust: This is the trust that each person knows you have their best interests at heart. They must also be sure the people you put in their path have a common interest and alignment, as well as being totally trustworthy.

Where to start?

This raises interesting questions about who you invite or let into your network.

In the early stages of building your network, you might be happy to make or accept connections from anyone.

However, before you start, beware of unwanted or incovenient outcomes.

Reaching out cuts both ways. Other people and businesses will also want to connect with you.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing because we all seek a wider audience and greater engagement, don’t we? After all, aren’t more followers what we’re looking for?

“In the longer term, this approach will weaken you in serious ways. This is an example of when less is definitely more”.

Daniel Mumby
Build your network sign.

There is another example of this in the practical application of the principle of Dunbar’s number, which states:

“Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.” 

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar

It’s often said that you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.

And there is the quote often attributed to James Rohn, which we’re paraphrasing:

Five years from now you will be the same person you are today, but for the people you spend time with and the books that you read.

James Rohn

If the basic premise of these ideas is true, it leads us to a number of inescapable conclusions.

Which people should connect with?

All great mentors will tell you that your net worth is equivalent to your network.

So, diluting your network with people who don’t add value or you don’t resonate with, you reduce your chances of creating meaningful, engaging and valuable outcomes.

Unlike some people would have you believe, social media influence has little to do with how many connections you have.

“Unless you are a celebrity, influence has everything to do with the capacity and willingness of each individual in your network to engage in a meaningful way.”

Daniel Mumby

If the five people you spend most of your time with are not where you want to be, you are short-changing your future.

Delegates Networking During Conference Lunch Break

How to build the best network

Start by thinking about who is in your network. Then apply the following three principles to each of them.

  1. Knowing people: Who do they know?
  2. Understanding: What do they want?
  3. Developing trust: Is it mutual?

If you can honestly answer yes to these questions for everyone in your network, you are well on the right path.

Next, start thinking about who you can add value to. What could you help them create, do, be, or become?

Now get to work:

  • Connect.
  • Refer.
  • Engage.
  • Give value.
  • They will reciprocate.

There is one more requirement.

Don’t wait for reciprocity. Be prepared to ask for it. This means getting out of your comfort zone and opening your mouth.

As Mark Suster – the Entrepreneur turned Venture Capitalist – advocates:

“Have 50 coffees a month and talk with 50 new people, one-to-one. It should stick in your head as a metaphor for networking. For getting outside of your comfort zone. For starting relationships today that won’t pay off for a year. It’s the entrepreneur’s equivalent of “10,000 hours.

Mark Suster

Now get out there and collaborate your heart out.