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Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships that Matter
By Scott Gerber
By Ryan Paugh
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STOP NETWORKING. Seriously, stop doing it. Now. It is time to ditch the old networking-for networking’s-sake mentality in favor of a more powerful and effective approach to creating and enhancing connections. In Superconnector, Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh reveal a new category of professionals born out of the social media era: highly valuable community-builders who make things happen through their keen understanding and utilization of social capital. Superconnectors understand the power of relationship-building, problem-solve by connecting the dots at high levels, and purposefully cause different worlds and communities to interact with the intention of creating mutual value.
How can you become a Superconnector? Gerber and Paugh share instructive anecdotes from a who’s who roster of high achievers, revealing how to systematically manage a professional community and maximize its value. Of utmost importance is practicing Habitual Generosity, acting on the knowledge that your greatest returns come when you least expect them, and that by putting others’ needs first the good karma will flow back to you tenfold. Gerber and Paugh also explore winning strategies such as The Art of Selectivity, a well-honed ability to define which relationships matter most for you and decide how you will maintain them over time. Full of helpful advice on how to communicate with anyone about anything, Google-proof your reputation, and much more, Superconnector is a must-read for those seeking personal and business success.
This is a book about building relationships. Relationships that exist for mutual benefit. Relationships through which something wonderful can happen. It is a book about community, and community building, and the very real need for connection. It is a book for anyone looking to enhance his or her relationship-making ability, both professionally and personally.
Relationship building is something that we take very seriously. Our entire professional lives have been based on helping business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals meaningfully connect and build value with one another. We pride ourselves on our expertise in this area, and over the years we have developed a strong methodology for how to go about building, fostering, nurturing, developing, and maintaining relationships.
We want to help you understand the power of connection, too. As the world gets noisier and busier, connecting has never been more important. The next generation of success via social capital will be determined by those who have walled-off access to the people who matter.
We want to help you become the sort of person who has that kind of access. To be a connector.
Superconnectors are a new category of tradespeople born out of the social media era. They are highly valuable community builders who make things happen through their keen understanding and utilization of social capital—that is, the people you meet and the standing you have with them. We believe that social capital is the most important currency in the world. People, not money, are your most important assets; great things in business happen when the right people come together.
“Superconnectors are people who just seem to know everyone,” says Keith Ferrazzi, the founder of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a research and consulting firm, who actually coined the term Superconnector in his landmark book, Never Eat Alone. Ferrazzi says these people appreciate the importance of “weak ties” as well as strong relationships. To expand your range of interests and expertise, Ferrazzi explains, you need to diversify your network and incorporate people with whom you have less in common but whose interests are complementary. And Superconnectors connect with a whole spectrum of people.
Superconnectors are information brokers. Their power comes from what they know just as much as whom they know. Obviously, the two are not mutually exclusive; Superconnectors are constantly learning and constantly connecting. They know that the more right people you meet, the more you learn, and vice versa. This is also one of the reasons people are attracted to this type of connector: in a noisy world, that’s a one-two punch.
Superconnectors can do what they do because they understand the essence of community building, that is, the process of connecting people for mutual gain. They are patient, knowing that long-term gains trump short-term ones. The rewards they reap might not be evident for years to come, but that’s not an issue. Superconnectors play the long game. They have patience and dedication. (In Aesop parlance, they would be the tortoise.)
To that end, Superconnectors aren’t born. You can learn to be a Superconnector (which is exactly what this book is about!). You might think that Superconnectors are extroverted and love to be the life of the party, but not always. In fact, some of the best connectors we know are serious introverts who became Superconnectors in spite of—or, perhaps, because of—their introversion. They get lost at big events. They shine in smaller one-on-one interactions. They create opportunities to connect with people who fit their unique style of relationship building.
But Superconnectors don’t meet others for the sake of amassing a museum-worthy collection of business cards. Superconnectors care about people, and they love connecting people who should be connected. They understand the power of relationship building, and they purposefully bring people or groups together with the intention to create mutual value. They are emotionally intelligent and empathetic. They understand how to uncover the needs and desires of those they aim to connect, even if those people don’t clearly know what they’re looking for themselves.
True relationship building is a master craft that takes tremendous time, energy, and thought. (A maxim: Anybody can call themselves a connector; only others can call you a Superconnector.)
“We all love an overnight success story, but behind every overnight success story that’s endured you’ll see lots of internal work, a lot of thinking and preparation that no one knows about,” says author Shane Snow, the cofounder of Contently. “The difference between a one-hit wonder and someone who goes on to have a career is that the latter has done more work that no one has seen. It’s not just luck that they hit the charts—there’s a lot of planning and recognition. It’s the same thing, whether it’s making music or being a connector. The best ones have done the prep work.”
In an age when we are all desperate for instant gratification (and many people do still really want to believe that there is a five-minute-abs formula for building a professional network—not to mention ab building), it’s easy for unoriginal posers to continue to regurgitate jargon-laden, one-size-fits-all tidbits to advance their own self-interest. This false narrative has continued to push the notion that being “connected” and being a “connector” are the same thing to millions of people.
Nothing could be further from the truth. And in the long run, only one of those mind-sets will offer any real pathway to relationship-building success. Guess which one that is? That’s right. The connector.
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO ANYTHING WE HAVE TO SAY
Because the two of us have lived exactly what we are preaching.
We were introduced in 2010 through a mutual friend, Dan Schawbel, who’s made a big name for himself as an expert on millennials and the workplace. We each knew Schawbel through our own individual channels; he is a big-league connector and insisted we meet. Obviously, he had no idea what the exact outcome would be, but he definitely suspected something good would come of it. He was right. Both of our lives changed with that one introduction.
After graduating from Penn State in 2006, Ryan had taken the first job he could get: at a top pharmaceutical company in his home state of New Jersey, where there are as many pharma companies as there are strip malls. He sat down at a cubicle every day, collected a reasonable paycheck for a wet-behind-the-ears college grad, but was… miserable.
He wasn’t alone. His lifelong friend and freshman-year roommate, Ryan Healy (people referred to them as “the Ryans”), was sitting in a cubicle down in Washington, DC, feeling equally demoralized by his first job. They complained to each other often about how unhappy they were. Eventually, the Ryans decided to do something about it.
They realized that if they were going to be in jobs that were financially stable but soul deadening, they might as well use that stability to “moonlight our own destinies,” as Ryan (Paugh) puts it.
Blogging was just becoming trendy, especially among Gen X and baby-boomer recruiters, hiring managers, and HR professionals who were just starting to add Generation Y and millennials (like the Ryans) to their teams. But they were having difficulty working with this new breed of worker, and that angst found its way onto their blogs. These young upstarts were “Narcissistic.” “Entitled.” “Disloyal.” Newspapers and magazine articles—along with books like Generation Me—were dedicated to lambasting the group. “But nobody from our generation was speaking up,” says Ryan. The Ryans decided to create a blog, Employee Evolution, to be that voice.
They blogged about the clash of generations in the workforce from their perspective, defended their peers, and attempted to debunk the stereotypes associated with us. People started to take notice. Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ran features on them; Morley Safer anchored a segment on 60 Minutes.
And a funny thing happened: They discovered that they weren’t alone in their dissatisfaction with the status quo of the working world. Nor were they the only ones who resented the generational stereotypes. They met with and supported a number of bloggers, many of whom became good friends, who shared their beliefs. One of whom was a woman named Penelope Trunk.
Trunk, a Gen Xer, had written a book called Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, a career guide for Gen Y. It became so popular that it spawned a column in the Boston Globe and a controversial career blog that’s still around today, but she was looking to do something bigger with the brand. That’s where the Ryans came on the scene.
Trunk didn’t know what she wanted to do next with her brand, but she knew she wanted it to be a startup and that she didn’t want to do it alone. She found Employee Evolution through seeing them comment frequently on her blog (they were huge fans). She wanted the Ryans to be her partners in her next venture.
Together, they created Brazen Careerist 2.0: an online community for young professionals entering the workforce to share their challenges and frustrations and offer each other support. The bloggers they had befriended earlier, along with the ones they met through Employee Evolution, became their anchors (more about anchors later). In 2009 Mashable had dubbed their little startup “one of the top social networking destinations for Gen Y.”
Flash-forward to 2010. The Ryans were now living in Madison, Wisconsin, where Trunk lived with her family (because when you’re in your early twenties and your partner has two kids, a husband, and a home, you go where she tells you to). They had raised more than $1 million in funding, and they brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the Brazen Careerist platform. But they weren’t making any money. As Ryan puts it, “We had to make a big change, or—as startup folk like to call it when you have to go back to the drawing board—a pivot.”
They had to bring in new leadership. One of their lead investors and a seasoned CEO who believed in them stepped in. Brazen Careerist was beginning to take new shape as a software-as-a-service platform providing speed networking opportunities helping recruiters and job seekers, students and alumni at universities, and any other A-B combination you can think of connect online. It was a brazen move inspired by the phenomenon of Chat Roulette (yes, the one with all the creepy naked people).
And something unexpected: the company started making money! They brought on big-name clients, and the company was reborn as a SaaS technology play: Brazen Technologies.
As thrilled as Ryan was to see the company he cofounded start to see some success, he also started feeling like his time at Brazen was coming to an end. He was (and still is) a community builder at heart, and he felt like he couldn’t contribute the best parts of himself to the team.
One afternoon he sat on a beach in Chatham, Massachusetts, with his friend Dan Schawbel. That’s when his life changed. Schawbel suggested that he connect with an entrepreneur named Scott Gerber, who was working on something that was right up his alley. Scott had studied film at New York University, and while he was still in college he became a very successful producer. He knew nothing about business—he relied on Google to help him decipher terms like P&L. His family couldn’t help him; they weren’t entrepreneurs or moguls. He had no formal mentors or advisers to counsel him on what he was doing right or wrong; he relied on instinct, salesmanship, wagonloads of naïveté, and… his Type A chutzpah.
He created a viable business and managed to make a lot of money his junior year—which he promptly lost a year later, largely because he was a rookie, made stupid mistakes, and had no network around him to help him deal with the business challenges he faced. At that moment he made himself a promise. He never wanted another entrepreneur to experience the same feelings of loneliness or lack of support that he had. He never wanted another young businessperson to go blindly without a network or any other connections, as he had. He vowed that if he ever found financial success, he would create a group where like-minded young entrepreneurs could help each other solve the types of challenges he faced.
After graduation in 2005—to the chagrin of his “real job” touting family—he took the last seven hundred dollars to his name and built another company, called Sizzle It!, which produced promotional videos (or “sizzle reels”) for PR and marketing firms. He learned from past mistakes, and it did quite well. It generated substantial profits and had a who’s who client roster of many of the world’s largest brands and advertising agencies.
Two years later he made good on his promise, and the first iteration of the Young Entrepreneur Council, commonly known today as YEC, was born.
In 2010, after the recession hit, Scott began sharing his story with universities and youth entrepreneurship groups. He felt students could relate to him as a peer and find value and inspiration in his journey. After all, he was only a few years older than the students he was speaking to.
Then the media came a-knocking, which caught the attention of dozens of young entrepreneurs from around the country. The message resonated with them, and many would end up reaching out to him and joining him as he continued to speak with students and youth groups. As the press interest around youth entrepreneurship and the Young Entrepreneur Council hit fever pitch, Scott broadened the concept yet again. He began asking up-and-coming entrepreneurs from around the country to send him their business questions and challenges. He would then funnel them to his newly assembled group of successful entrepreneurs, who would answer those questions. He then partnered with several of the media outlets who had been covering his efforts, such as Inc. magazine, Time, and the Wall Street Journal, and published his group’s collective responses in their publications.
As more questions and more press outlets wanted to take part, Scott continued reaching out to other successful entrepreneurs his age to join his group. They, in turn, introduced him to people in their networks. One of them was named… Dan Schawbel.
After a month’s worth of back-and-forth, Ryan and Scott finally got on the phone. We clicked big-time. That’s when things got serious. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, my business advice is being shared alongside advice from Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of Reddit!’” Ryan recalls. “There had to be something more we could do with this group.” Ryan started flying into Manhattan from Madison regularly, and we’d walk around the city all day long, talking about building the next great entrepreneurial organization. We ate more Panera Bread than we could handle but burned off the carbs just as quickly with every step we took while formulating our vision.
Together, we realized that it was possible to do both good and well at the same time. First and foremost, we wanted to help other people with their businesses. But we also wanted to be able to create enough value for ourselves to ensure that the Young Entrepreneur Council wouldn’t become just another one of Startupland’s failed meet-up groups due to lack of care and management. It wasn’t easy. We both worried: Would people want what we offered in a formal manner? Would they be willing to pay for it?
The answer, we discovered, was yes.
We didn’t realize how much value we’d been creating or how valuable we were to other people. (But more on that later.) Slowly, what began as an organic movement turned into a legitimate, sustainable business. Eventually, we both left the businesses we started to step into YEC full-time and grew it into the thriving organization that it is today.
By 2012 YEC had become a huge resource for entrepreneurs and media alike. Today, YEC is composed of more than seventeen hundred entrepreneurs in North America forty years old and under, whose companies make more than $1 million annually in revenue. The group has led to thousands of meaningful business connections, and the business generates several million dollars in revenue annually. Our success with YEC even inspired the creation of other membership groups for professionals in different business sectors through partnerships with organizations like Forbes and Men’s Health. These communities sit alongside YEC now in our new umbrella company, The Community Company, which works with media enterprises, global brands, and celebrities to build professional organizations that help our partners create greater engagement and customer affinity.
And we owe it all to an introduction made by a third party who connected two guys living in two separate parts of the country who shared very similar ideas and ideals. Thanks to our mutual friend Dan, who had the foresight to connect two guys—two connectors who think and act like connectors!—we were able to create something amazing. We took the ball Dan tossed our way and ran with it. We used our methodology to build social capital and, eventually, saw great financial success.
Let’s be clear: none of this would have happened if not for a single connection from our dear friend Dan Schawbel, the Superconnector who saw an opportunity for two people with different strengths to create and make something magical happen.
“I had a gut feeling,” Dan later told us. “In my head I’m thinking, ‘The two personalities are very different, but they are in effect trying to do the same thing.’” His gut was right. If we hadn’t teamed up, YEC would never have made the transition from a small idea to a movement and then led to a successful business. That’s the power of a good connection—and the power of a Superconnector. Again, a whole lot of value can be created with just one single connection with the right context, purpose, and reasoning. If we didn’t trust Dan or Dan’s judgment, or if we had chosen not to listen to him, we might have never met. Or we might have met and not taken the relationship any further. But we both recognized that this was a connection worth diving into. As a result, we built a business that has changed both of our lives for the better.
But we weren’t the only ones whose lives changed. Dan’s access, reach, and clout increased exponentially as well. His cachet grew along with his opportunities: He increased his direct and indirect access to media outlets and other entrepreneurs in YEC who could help him in his professional endeavors. He benefited from YEC, just by association. That’s the kind of serendipitous good karma that more often than not comes back to a Superconnector, because of their goodwill and thoughtfulness in connecting others.
THE END OF “NETWORKING”
On the one hand, meeting people is easier today than ever before. Thanks to social media, Facebook, Twitter, and a never-ending number of new platforms arising daily, it’s simple to reach out to just about anyone in the world. You virtually poke them, they poke back, and suddenly they’re one of your five hundred BFFs. Awesome!
As it became easier to “connect” with other people, we forgot what “connection” really meant. We conflated the two. “Connect” and “connection” are not the same thing. Most people strive to connect and repeat instead of connection and repeat. They’re interested in breadth over substance. We are the exact opposite. There’s a big difference between the kind of connecting social media has taught us to do and the kind we want you to follow.
See, here’s the reality: “Networking” as we know it, as we have been taught it, is dead. Or, at the very least, it’s on life support with little chance for recovery. In fact, we’d like to abolish the word altogether and substitute connecting for networking.
Who killed it? Well, in a way, we all played a role. You, us, your aunt Helen, and just about anyone else vying to get ahead in the world. Our more-is-more, networking-for-networking’s-sake approach to social media, conference attendance, and, yes, even daily human interaction has bastardized this once reliable pillar of business success into a mere mirage.
Why didn’t anyone tell you that networking kicked the bucket? Because there are entire industries, software companies, and consultants generating billions of dollars annually by continuing to give credence to this outdated, gluttonous approach to “relationship building.”
The MLM industry—that’s multilevel marketing—is a perfect example. Hundreds of companies out there have told people they should simply meet, “monetize,” and repeat. Never mind that these practices have destroyed lives, financial futures, and friendships. And we let them! Each one of us is at fault. Our lack of awareness and unwillingness to change our behaviors are what led us here. We just keep following the same stale, antiquated networking techniques because we’re told they will work. Rather than learning something new, we default to our familiar habits. But they don’t work!
An ever-growing number of gurus, conference organizers, and MLM hucksters are feeding us antiquated “tips,” “tricks,” and “hacks” about how to best go about building valuable “relationships” (by their definition, that’s code for “sales prospects”).
Except it doesn’t build relationships. Not even a little bit.
So why do we let ourselves continue down this path of networking for networking’s sake and gross overuse of social media? Because we’re addicts.
About 5 to 10 percent of all Internet users are screen junkies. A December 2014 study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that 6 percent of the world’s population is addicted to the Internet. With about 7 billion people on the planet, that’s roughly 420 million people who experience a huge rush when they log on, similar to the way drug addicts and alcoholics feel when they get a fix.
So, we are, quite literally, hooked on this stuff.
Back in the good old days—say, the beginning of the twenty-first century—networking was pretty standard. You went to events, you handed out business cards, and you pressed a button on LinkedIn and boom! You were “connected.” Mission accomplished.
Never mind that you rarely took the relationship offline. Sure, you and your new BFFs may have emailed on occasion or placed each other on one another’s generic mailing lists, but the relationship didn’t progress much beyond that. Still, you dutifully continued on this path, amassing contact after contact. You were told that this was the right thing to do: In order to climb the corporate ladder or build business success, you have to schmooze with as many people as possible. You never know when that one right person might come along who can help advance your career or take your business to the next rung.
On one level, this is correct—you don’t know whom you might meet and how they might rock your universe. But there’s a better way to find them besides trolling gigantic auditoriums at, say, Ye Olde Trade Show. Rather than hopping around like a moleskin pouch in search of a business card, you’re better off asking yourself: Is this really the best use of my time? Is this the smartest way I can achieve the outcome I desire?
Let us help you out here: No, it is not. There’s a much better way to build meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships that yield real results.
Indeed, somewhere along the line, we lost sight of the actual purpose of networking: to build a mutually beneficial relationship with another person and maintain that relationship for the long term.
Stylistically (and the core thinking of the MLM industry), the mantras and blog fodder differ from speech to clickbait-headline blog post, but in essence the typical pitch reads something like this: “If you focus on building fans and followers on social media, regularly share content using ‘inbound marketing’ techniques, and attend networking events, you will be able to amass a giant network from which to extract value—and win big at business.” Never mind the time and care it takes to get to know the actual people you meet; you can just “growth hack” (yes, that’s a real buzzword—or buzzverb) your way to Rolodex success!
It’s exhausting just reading it.
Here’s the truth: The number of contacts and followers you have online does not trump real relationships. Being virtually or offline “connected” is not in itself valuable. Social capital cannot be measured in likes and shares. Instead, you have to acquire social capital and build trust and meaningful relationships through the right conversations, actions, and value exchanges with the right people. (By value exchange, we mean information, education, mentorship, a resource, or a connection—literally, a place where value is exchanged.)
Instead of asking, “How do I solve this business challenge?” a Superconnector thinks, “Who do I know who can help me solve this business challenge or directly connect me with the right people?” A Superconnector knows how to use social capital to solve business challenges with the same ease that a sommelier knows which wine to order with your steamed lobster (FYI: a chardonnay or nice white burgundy). We have spent hundreds of hours thinking about this and have created a methodical, systematic way, which is exactly what we will teach you to do in this book.
Mind you, we are not telling you to eradicate every single one of your old habits. We don’t want you to veto all conferences or never post on Facebook again. Conferences can be wonderful tools; we’ve met a lot of amazing people at them. But you do need to rethink every aspect of your attendance, including your purpose and participation. We’re not suggesting you never use social media or attend events ever again, but we are saying it’s important to be smarter and more strategic about the things you do.
You’ll still be using the same tools and real estate you’ve always used; you’ll just use them in different ways, for a different reason. Technology, for example, has enormous benefits. But technology should be used as a tool to engage, enhance, convene, and understand how to read people’s motives, interests, and desires.
Rather than relying on it exclusively, we want to teach you the right way to use platforms. We are not about purging the tools that have driven new business relationships over the past decade, but instead committed to learning how to be more strategic and make the best use of your time when others are simply creating more noise. This new skill set is something you’ll need in the professional world.
HOW TO THINK LIKE A SUPERCONNECTOR, NOT A NETWORKER
- "If you want to learn firsthand how captains of industry and power brokers build and nurture meaningful relationships, look no further than this book. I've worked with the authors for years and whether you're just starting out as an entrepreneur or in the twilight of your executive career, Scott and Ryan will teach you how to develop top tier social capital."—Mike Perlis, CEO, Forbes Media
- "You can't build a successful business without building successful relationships. The authors behind this book are the real deal. They will teach you how to systematically and authentically build a meaningful community around you."—Barbara Corcoran, Shark on ABC's Shark Tank
- Achieving greatness starts with knowing that people will always be your most important asset. Whether you're trying to be the next startup sensation, lifestyle entrepreneur, or industry leader, this book will teach you the unconventional rules for cultivating relationships with the right people to achieve your goals. Hint: It's more about giving back, and being in service over getting anything in return. Scott and Ryan are masters at this."—Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author of The School of Greatness
- "Real wealth is measured by the community of good people you surround yourself with, who can work together and win together for a lifetime. That type of wealth is immeasurable, and Superconnector provides the tools to get you there."—John Paul DeJoria, Cofounder, John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patrón Spirits Co.
- "Finally, business networking has been redefined for the social networking age. This book is a must-read for those who want to make a difference in today's world."—Laura Lorber, Executive Editor, Inc.com
- "A book to help you improve your business networking and build real relationships."—Forbes
- "A business book everyone will be reading in 2018."—Business Insider
"A top business book to get ahead in 2018."
- On Sale
- Feb 27, 2018
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Da Capo Lifelong Books