Let’s say you have a brilliant startup idea, or you’ve imagined something that can improve or grow your existing business, be it a new product line, a location change, or a service add-on. So, you take out a piece of paper, or your trusty laptop, and start estimating the resources you need; how much will it cost? What’s the timeline? Should you plan on hiring new people? Would the current staff need retraining? Then you organize all of those random bullet points into something that looks like a plan and think, “Great! Now… how do I get this done?”
Our research at Ferrazzi Greenlight has shown that a proven way to deliver your plan in an accelerated manner is through building relationships. Now, this is not an innovative idea. It’s obvious that the more people you meet, the more opportunities come your way. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to start building connections and learn how to turn those connections into business. The difference in our approach is that we use a simple tool called a Relationship Action Plan that could help you strategically prioritize the relationships you build, and in turn, achieve your goals faster, more effectively, and more joyfully.
1. Start with your goal
The process of building strategic relationships begins with this question; what is a critical business initiative that will require you (and possibly your team) to have enhanced relationships outside of your normal circles? Define the outcome you are trying to achieve in very specific terms so you can be clear about whose support you will need to be successful. For example, if you are looking for outside funding for a new product, you should consider not only how much money you need but also when you will need it based on the tentative timeline of your project, along with what you are willing to give in return. It’s as much about what you are comfortable offering as what you know you are uncomfortable offering. Then, break the goal down into milestones. What are the steps that will get you to your goal? You may need different support at each milestone, so it’s good to be specific and granular at this point.
2. Identify the most critical relationships
Now that you have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve, start making a list of everyone who could be of service in making it happen: fellow entrepreneurs, advisors, mentors, your personal connections. Then, evaluate the Business Impact (BI) each person has by rating how much influence an individual has in the decision-making process on a scale from 1 to 5 (“1” meaning a person has some impact but can’t influence the decision directly, and “5” meaning this person makes the final decision or has veto power). Be careful here; many people do not realize that it’s not only the most senior people in organizations that have the most power. Consider administrative staff, for example, who often serve as gatekeepers to key executives, leaders, and resources. And finally, assess your Relationship Quality (RQ) with each person on the list, rating relationships not by how much you like each other, but by how much you are of service to each other. This scale starts at “-1” where there is an unresolved issue between you and this person (be honest, everyone has some of these!), and work up to relationships in which you and this person actively advocate for each other and each other’s success, and mark these “5”.
3. Prioritize the relationships on which to focus
While all relationships are important, not all of them have the same impact on the success of your goal. So, once you’ve completed evaluating your relationships, focus your time and effort on those that have the highest Business Impact and lowest Relationship Quality. Why? Because these are the people who have the most decision-making power, and you have a negative or low-quality relationship with them! And, of course, don’t forget to budget some time on maintaining the relationships with the highest Business Impact and Relationship Quality people as well as those with low Business Impact and high Relationship Quality. We have to continue to nurture our solid relationships, though we will start to shift – over time – the amount of energy that we’ll expend in doing so, thereby giving more time and energy to the relationships that must be developed further.
Once you have run through the Relationship Action Plan algorithm, it’s time to start developing your target relationships. Our further research here shows that in order to build truly meaningful relationships, you need to lean in and lead with generosity. The first question you should be asking yourself when approaching a new contact is, “What can I do in service of them?” instead of “What can they do for me?” Be genuine, transparent, and helpful in order to build up trust, accountability, and candor, which are critical to achieving personal and professional goals, and ultimately – business results. Think about how you approach networking events or conferences; do you start with the former or latter approach? Most people have the mindset that the best way to get something from events like this is to ask for it. Our research indicates that reciprocity is your greater ally, so choose wisely and adjust your mindset and behavior accordingly!