The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the best way to make fruitful connections?” is written by Thomas Chaffee, CEO of ePublishing.com.
The most annoying part of achieving business success is the constant parade of those who try to manufacture a relationship in the name of their own networking. I have seen everything from the old school—overnight packages full of confetti and a $100 bill asking for 15 minutes—to the creative—emailing a script where I was supposed to read my lines and create a “dialog” along with a video. Yikes.
These desperate attempts underscore the fact that networking and relationships are fundamental to business success, yet ignore that the best relationships include equal amounts of give and take. They span from the expedient—such as the friendly barista at your favorite coffee shop each morning—to the unconditional love of a parent. All relationships are valuable, yet you can easily identify those relationships that are borne of convenience vs. those that can have a meaningful outcome.
I view relationships as something into which I directly invest my most valuable asset—time. Choosing where to deploy your time first requires finding someone you want to invest into. Early in my career, I would attend networking events with my wife, who was more naturally inclined to work a room than I. But she’d often end up getting stuck talking to people about their workout routines, vacation destinations, or new restaurants. To minimize those interactions, she began imagining that every five minutes of her time was $20 out of her wallet.
By recognizing the value of your own time, you also acknowledge the value of others’ time, creating the vital balance that is the hallmark of a good relationship. While you certainly need to create a significant number of connections to find those that matter, you should always prioritize the quality over the quantity of your relationships.
Here is the key takeaway: Invest more time into fewer relationships. It may sound counterintuitive, but generally your networking effect is far stronger, as people who have deeper relationships with you create more powerful referral relationships on your behalf.
In an age of ubiquitous social media, it is even more important to ensure the connections you make are genuine. I have to resist rolling my eyes when people tell me they are friends with someone—only later to find out what they meant is that they are connected via social media and have never actually communicated. We have an SVP who constantly admonishes us to become closer with people, as “all things being equal, people will do business with someone they like.” It’s an enduring truism.
The simple truth is that the most fruitful connections are borne of something shared. It pays to be open and expose more of yourself by engaging in organizations that interest you outside of your workplace or business sphere of influence. Whether that’s a sports club, church, music, general business, or any number of affinity groups, it is primarily about a sense of shared engagement. If you are authentic and interesting as a person, it immediately translates into someone who people are interested in getting to know and wanting to help.
Unquestionably, the greatest assets we have in life are our relationships. Whether those are personal or professional, good relationships make our lives easier and more fulfilling. In the business world, if you do things for others without expectation and always ask what you can do to help them succeed, the depth and usefulness of those relationships can be leveraged just like any other asset.