What does it take to be successful? Coming up with a great product or service idea? Finding the funding and getting the business off the ground? Finding a market and selling sufficient quantities of the product or service to pay the bills, support yourself and build wealth?
Yes, yes and yes. If you can accomplish that short list of items you’ll be successful. Yet those modest tasks can be exasperatingly difficult.
For one thing, you can’t do it alone, even if you’re a one-person shop working from home. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an extended community to launch and run a business. That community includes suppliers, vendors, associates, staff, mentors, affiliates and customers. The strength of this community – and consequently the strength of your enterprise – depends entirely on your ability to build durable relationships.
You spend years honing the ability to create and nourish those critical relationships. The learning curve can be slow and fraught with mistakes in judgment and poorly chosen confidences. You must be open and simultaneously thick skinned. You must be authentically friendly while also cultivating a quiet wariness, for some lurking around may harm you, even inadvertently.
Giving is always more important than receiving as you create your community. And the giving has to come from the heart, without thought of reciprocation. In giving you receive, but not always from the person you gave to.
You’ll find it difficult to cultivate relationship skills from your desk. You have to go out into the world and interact with others, no matter how busy you are. I’ve learned you can develop some relationships over the phone and through email, but it’s difficult to make them durable without spending time in the other’s presence.
One great way to develop your community is by joining groups, whether it’s a business group such as a chamber of commerce, a professional association or an industry group. I’ve spent time in all varieties, some local and some national. Some were professional self-help groups such as Toastmasters, while others were across the country, such as the Magazine Publishers of America in New York.
In all cases, the real value of these groups came with getting involved. Years ago I belonged to the New Mexico Chapter of the American Marketing Association. The group put on monthly meetings with speakers and also held periodic receptions so local marketing professionals could meet and learn. Many members used the meetings as a networking opportunity to find marketing positions.
I remember a young woman who moved to New Mexico from Toronto. She was looking for a job, so she joined the chapter, knowing that many marketing executives were involved with the group. Almost immediately, she started volunteering. She helped develop outreach programs and participated in launching a local Marketer of the Year Award.
She displayed energy, enthusiasm and creativity. She was willing to do the fun tasks as well as the mundane work. I never saw her pitch the executives for work. Instead she simply exhibited competence, willingness to work and a cheerful bearing. She was quickly hired by one of the executives who had worked with her on chapter projects. A handful of executives were interested in hiring her. Not once had she cornered any of them at a reception.
Around the same time, another woman joined the group who was also seeking employment. She didn’t participate in helping the chapter and instead worked the room at every meeting, making it clear to everyone that she was seeking a job. After three or four meetings she started to complain that our executive members were distant and cool. She didn’t find a job and soon quit the group.
If success in business depends on your willingness and ability to create a community, then first step in building that community comes down to the question, “How can I help?”