Eight years ago, Jeremy Choi started working out at Clance Laylor’s downtown Toronto gym. Over the years, serial entrepreneur Choi helped the trainer with some branding and strategy decisions. When Laylor decided to turn his strength and performance coaching regimen into a business, Choi was the natural partner. Together they launched Athlete Activation System.
It’s just one of many instances when Choi’s knack for forming and maintaining connections has paid off. “I’ve made a lot of great friends over the years, and I kept adding value to them, which led me to find really awesome co-founders,” he explains. Choi is also the CEO and co-founder of WPUP, a company that manages websites built on the WordPress content management system.
Relationship building has delivered other rewards as well. “People love to work with people they like,” Choi says. Having a good product or service is important, but it’s not enough. “If you want to generate sales, you need relationships, and people want to work with people they like.”
Here are three things you can do to make and maintain meaningful connections that will help you grow your business.
1. Stroll outside your space
Choi previously ran a digital marketing firm. A few years ago, he attended a graphic design event and struck up a conversation at the bar with a freelance creative director. The two bonded over impending fatherhood. Three years later, the acquaintance started his own agency, and ended up giving Choi’s firm one of its biggest contracts ever.
Despite that success story, Choi says it’s better to do your networking outside your field. He tends to frequent events related to golf, volleyball, and board games—his hobbies. “Those are the ones that I find are the most successful, because you never know what business they’re in or who they’re working for,” he says.
2. Listen at length
Networking often feels uncomfortably transactional—who are you, and what can you do for me? Choi prefers to follow a principle devised by fellow entrepreneur Dan Martell called the 5/50 Rule. “The premise of it is that instead of trying to know someone for five minutes, try to ask questions and get to know them for the next 50 years,” Choi explains.
Rather than simply asking, “What do you do?” try to find out why your conversation partner is in a certain field, or what motivates them. “The more you ask, the more you will seem genuine that you’re interested in what they have to say,” says Choi.
3. Add value
Entrepreneurs don’t have the time to make friends with everyone, Choi acknowledges. “You can’t please everybody, and there’s only so much of a Rolodex that you can really, truly keep,” he says.
But with the contacts Choi chooses to maintain, he makes sure to go out of his way to add value. That could take the form of expertise, referrals and even the occasional invitation to an activity he and his acquaintance might both enjoy. “Give, give, and just give more,” he emphasizes.
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