My role at Forbes Media LLC is to develop new strategic and revenue-generating businesses opportunities. That requires a couple of skill sets: The easiest is being able to identify structure and negotiate effectively. More difficult is the ability to complete transactions that result in successful businesses. The key is to have a capable network of business people.
That's why I network-to identify business opportunities, to benefit the businesses I'm involved in. I network to open doors for myself and other people. It's what you know, whom you know and how well you combine the two that counts. Being knowledgeable and talented counts for a lot, but only gets you so far. Combining expertise with an extensive and very powerful array of contacts goes markedly further.
Everybody talks about networking, but not many people are very good at it. Many think good networking means knowing lots of people. But all that gives you is a large business card collection. Networking isn't about having lots of "business friends." It's about building strong relationships with the right people.
When networking is done well, it puts more capital into your business ventures and into your own pocket. Networking is about knowing who the best people are for different business situations and connecting them in a systematic way. Having relationships is of no value unless they become strategic relationships. The best way to develop these kinds of relationships is to have them create value.
Successful networking is about making all the parties involved benefit because they know each other and understand and work towards a common agenda. This approach to networking enables me, for example, to find new business opportunities for Forbes, effectively raise capital on preferential terms, and generate revenues for the business ventures I'm involved with.
When I meet with people, the first thing I do is find out what they have been working on to see how I can be helpful. I also reveal my highest priority projects so they can connect me with people who can advance my goals.
The end result is a group that sources business opportunities for each other.
My grandfather Malcolm S. Forbes was one of the most talented and innovative networkers of his time. His passion for Fabergé eggs, super yachts, hot air balloons and motorcycles, and the celebrities in his social circle, were a big draw for people. His ability to connect with powerful people worldwide and grant them access to each other in exclusive venues helped him build Forbes into a global brand that epitomized business success. The business landscape has changed since then, but the basic principles, the same core approach, still applies. To get optimal results from networking, you need to master three steps:
Meet influential and successful people.
Develop a solid understanding of these individuals.
Connect them to other influential and successful people, and opportunities that work for them.
Good networking creates a snowball effect. By building rapport with influential and successful people, you'll be introduced to other influential and successful people. This effect becomes more powerful when you're introducing people to individuals they want to meet (Figure 1).
Step One: Meeting People
You will want to network with people who can deliver the results you're looking for. Networking events provide opportunities to find such people. Just be aware that there are lots of networking events, and you have to be selective about which ones you attend. For example, I'm in the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum. I'm also the chairman of the membership committee of the Young President's Organization. These venues are filled with talented and resourceful individuals-industry leaders who are the type of people I want to know.
The most effective events are often the ones that are either set up by me or the people with whom I do business. For instance, holding events at the Forbes galleries, such as the Forbes Billionaire Poker Tournament, has helped me meet creative, capable and motivated people.
I've had the most success expanding my network by being introduced to the friends and associates of the people I've helped. For example, when I introduce wealthy people to solid investment opportunities I know they'll find attractive, these people are going to happily introduce me to their friends and associates. Introductions like these build tremendous good will.
While I presently run in circles that include billionaires, I don't only network with the very wealthy. My networking is focused on people who can get things done. I seek to build relationships with entrepreneurs, politicians and people who want to do well and accomplish something consequential-anyone who brings value to the table.
What's also important is that my Rolodex is international. I work hard to connect with people all over the world. This global focus has, for instance, resulted in Forbes magazine having 15 local market editions.
Step Two: Understanding People
You have to learn what's really important to the people you network with-and what isn't. You have to learn how they think and how well they work with others. It's also critical to determine what they can and cannot accomplish. Quite often, this last trait is neither obvious nor something people will talk about when you first meet them.
It's essential to go past the "dating phase" and determine what these people are actually all about. You need to establish where ego stops and reality begins. The best way to do this is by building honest and relevant professional relationships. This takes time and effort, and it's a must if you want your network to deliver exceptional results.
Let's also keep in mind that you're networking for long-term economic gain. Therefore, you absolutely have to learn about their businesses and the financials behind them. Only by doing this can you determine if you're in a position to add value. Serious communications and doing your homework will give you a much better understanding of their needs, wants and motivations.
Let's say you have learned what makes a person tick-what's seriously important to him or her. You know this individual's agenda and the way he or she works with others. But you're hesitant in dealing with this person because your agendas are at odds or, quite simply, the chemistry isn't right. What should you do? You should walk away! There are plenty of other people you can do business with, so don't try to make a square peg fit into a round hole.
Step Three: Introducing People
I think long term and so should you. You need to perpetually, actively nurture the relationships you have decided are worthwhile. You have to do things for people without any quid pro quo. It's not just about being altruistic. It's about good business. By delivering value to people, they will return the favor at some point by delivering value to you.
I'm always looking for opportunities to introduce people who can help each other professionally or even personally. Being proactive and identifying ways the different people in my network can help each other leads to more opportunities for everyone-including me. It also is a tremendous means of expanding my network.
This approach can pay enormous dividends, however, if you are more concerned about helping the people you're networking with than looking for ways you can benefit. By focusing on how to make people more successful, you're creating real professional friendships. This is the way I was raised. Caring and doing for others works for me personally. But it's also smart business. For example, I find that people I've helped will be very responsive when I come to them with a business venture. They know I'm not trying to sell something-that I sincerely believe the business venture can work for them.
When I introduce people to each other, I want them to know I'm making the connection for their benefit. While there are times I might also benefit, that's not the main thing. People take my calls and go to the meetings I set up because they know that it's to their advantage to do so. They know I'm thinking they can gain from the introduction and I'm not wasting their time. I spend a lot of time and effort getting to know these people. So, when I reach out to one of them, I'm absolutely confident they will be appreciative of the opportunity.
It's Not Magic
The approach to networking I'm advocating isn't secret nor is it that conceptually difficult. The cornerstone of the approach is about understanding what's genuinely important to other people. It's about getting out of your own way and making sure those individuals benefit by dealing with you and the opportunities you bring to them.
Most people can readily replicate the networking approach I'm discussing here. It's all a matter of degree. It's often about starting small and working your way up. No matter who you're networking with, it's important that you carefully learn all about them.
The "complication" with this approach is that it takes a lot of time and effort. It's very hard work. You have to sincerely be more concerned about the well being and success of the people you're networking with than "what's in it for me." This way, the people in your network will be increasingly prosperous. They will be actively looking for ways to help you. There's no question that the payoffs from approaching networking this way can be astronomical.
Miguel Forbes is vice president of business development at Forbes Media LLC.