An Insider’s Guide to Building the Ideal Business Network

 

 

 

I have written about the importance of networking here before and one of the points I made was to “Build real-life networks, not virtual ones.” I’d like to take that general point and drill down more deeply, because for many people that is easier said than done.

It takes the right strategies and the right attitude to truly build meaningful “real-life networks.” Online, we merely click a little icon labeled “Like” or “Follow” and we are often fooled into believing that we have done something of substance. Yet that’s not true.

Substance is the operative word here and when I got to know Nabil G. Fahel, who heads up enterprise partnerships for Shopify Plus, I began to develop a much better understanding of what a network with true substance really looks like. In fact, it can be so substantial, you might even call it the source of “relationship capital.”

In the above introduction of Nabil, I cut his credits a little short.  Let me fill in the list. He is on the business advisory council at the University of Waterloo, and a volunteer advisor at HackTheNorth.com and Communitech.ca. He is also the co-founder of the  Waterloo P0ker Classic – more on that in just a moment.

“I love meeting people and helping people reach their goals. I have been very fortunate to work with individuals and organizations that are, arguably, the most plugged into our community. That has drastically accelerated my ability to connect with a huge amount of people in my community,” Nabil explains, reflecting on his networking efforts.

The take-away here is the point he makes about acceleration. First, he has plugged himself into groups that are central to the activities he wishes to pursue. Within those organizations are the people that he needs to further his business and personal projects. Attending random mixers, for example, is more of a recipe for killing time than creating a killer network.

 

Betting on network success

In fact, the Waterloo P0ker Classic, plays a big role in Nabil’s ability to pull together a network that ideally fits his purposes and I asked him about it.

“I was part of a small p0ker group comprised of some of the most successful technology entrepreneurs in the Waterloo Region that met bi-weekly at a private residence. After several years, I was completely enamored by the group and the experience. I decided to launch a similar initiative for the tech community as a whole with the goal of making it world-class,” he explains. Note how Nabil was already getting together with a smaller group of tech influencers; he saw the potential of growing the group, yet he knew it was important to maintain its focus on technology.

“The magic is in the curation of people,” Nabil continues. “When you fill a massive room with business founders, investors, leaders, employees, and board members of a particular industry – tech in our case – then all kinds of interesting conversations happen and relationships are forged.”

When Peter Pham, CEO, BillShrink was recently talking to Andrew Warner on the podcast Mixergy, he made the same point: The types of events you attend as well as the other people in attendance should be relevant to your goal.

 

Shortening the time frame

And not only are the best kinds of relationships made in these get-togethers, the time scale required to grow your network is compressed: “I could do (make the connections) that one by one, and I do, but when you bring 150 people together, it scales nicely organically,” says Nabil.

Entrepreneurs are always looking for ventures that have the potential to scale up nicely. Attending, and maybe better yet founding events deliver the scalability that is required if you want to create a strong network efficiently.

Let me add something else about creating a networking event versus merely attending a networking event. Not long ago, I heard a woman discussing her networking strategy. She confessed to be somewhat shy and wasn’t satisfied by the way she operated in large networking events.

However, she found that she was able to overcome her shyness, and perhaps some awkwardness, when she organized the events herself. You see, once the event was hers, she had a great reason to approach people she might not otherwise approach. Inviting them to the event provided her with the ideal way to “break the ice.”

 

Partnering up

You will note that Nabil is the co-founder of the Waterloo P0ker Classic. Co-founding an event can also have its advantages. When you are working closely with another individual to create a successful event, it introduces you naturally to your co-founders network. On a smaller scale, co-hosting an event offers the same advantage.

At the top I said that we would also be discussing the kind of attitude that is required for networking and this is one of the more important lessons that I have learned from Nabil. He revealed it to me when I pushed him a bit and asked him to tell me the secret behind his success.

“It’s simple really: when called upon, always help others without the expectation of anything in return. It is a very human thing to do. When you do this – and it must be authentic! –  You will be surprised at how willing to help others are in your times of need.

“If you do things genuinely from the heart without any expectation of anything in return, in my experience, you get much more out of it in the long run. Satisfaction alone is payback enough for me. However, sometimes individuals that you once helped surface are subsequently in a position to pay you back in spades,” Nabil relates.

This kind of honest, selfless engagement is something that cannot be faked. “You don’t have to be a sociologist to sense authenticity and genuine behavior. When people approach others in the right way with the right tact, it shows, and in my experience it has proved to be invaluable. I would not be where I am today without mentors and everyone – and I mean everyone – needs mentors, from the CEO on down,” he says.

 

Considering the needs of others

Understanding that everyone has goals and needs others to achieve them, mixed with a genuine interest in people, is fundamental to Nabil’s success at building and expanding his network. “I love meeting people and helping people reach their goals…Once you understand what drives an individual and what they are passionate about, you can start to appreciate how your background or business network can be helpful,” he explains.

Before I close, I need to add one more dimension to this. Although networking events are the powerful engine that will drive the growth of your network, don’t totally overlook making one-on-one contacts with people. Nabil has some tips to offer when making contact with an individual.

“If an individual is approached correctly, I believe anything is possible. Think about what it is like to be the person you are approaching. Think about what their world looks like. Think about what their goals are. Think about the medium of the approach. Do you go direct or through another individual? Don’t be apologetic about it, be confident, but also think about the value that they would get out of the relationship,” Nabil offers.

As I have painted portraits of various professionals and their attitudes toward networking, do you see yourself? Are you a person who likes to organize events? Do you have someone you can partner with? Are you reluctant to approach others, or are you more bold? Are you networking with the right people, or merely the convenient people?

Sort through the advice here and you will find that you can jumpstart your network and get it scaled up surprisingly quickly.

 

 

About Hamzeh Al Fuqha:

Hamzeh Al Fuqha is a serial entrepreneur, inventor and angel investor. He founded Next Presentations and co-founded SmartAd. Hamzeh is a frequent speaker at industry seminars and guest lecturer at the American University of Sharjah on entrepreneurship and leadership. He has received several awards and won numerous national public speaking and debating competitions. Hamzeh has trained various public figures and high-level managers on executive communication skills and speech delivery techniques.

 

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