We spend the formative years of our lives growing up and getting an education and it seems our parents and teachers are focused on building “what we know”, but they rarely address the importance of building “what we know”. know”. Perhaps there should be classes in high schools and colleges to teach students the benefits of powerful networking. At one time or another, we’ve heard the popular catchphrase, “it’s who you know, not what you know”. The people you know may be more important, or at least just as important as what you know in getting career or job referrals. Here’s why.

For most companies, and especially startups, when looking to hire new employees, they look to their current employees for employee referrals. According to Zippia, a career research website, referrals from current employees account for 30-40% or more of all new hires. Employee referrals improve retention because employees join a workplace where they already know at least one person and gain insight into the company culture. Increasing retention isn’t just about applicants; current employees who make successful referrals also tend to stay with the same company longer. So how do you build a network that will ultimately get you referred or help recruit employees for your startup?

The first thing you need to do is change your mindset to focus on people, not opportunities. People can tell when you approach them purely for your own personal gain. You might get the specific thing you wanted, but they will remember your self-centeredness and be less likely to pass on future opportunities to you. To do this, consider who to target and what value you could bring to them. Can you share any research, industry tips, or maybe pitch it to someone that would benefit them or their business? In order to accomplish your strong network building plan, you need to identify very specific types of people and then focus on identifying and selecting those specific people to begin building your network on purpose.

Here is a potential network executive that you could purposefully build based on your career or startup ambitions.

Mentor with relevant experience. If you want to become a marketing expert or even build a startup, choose your potential mentor accordingly. If it’s marketing, try hiring a marketing expert. If you ever want to create a startup, recruit an accomplished entrepreneur.

Expert in industrial research. It’s a real benefit to understand getting advice if you’re focusing on a particular industry. If you think you want to work in cloud software or even start a new SaaS business, target a cloud or SasS industry expert who can keep you up to date with research data or trends.

Marketing expert. At some point in your career, if you intend to build a startup, you must have someone in your network who is an expert in branding or marketing. So many businesses have failed not because of the product or service they created, but because they lacked the proper branding or marketing campaigns to accelerate them to market.

Financial specialist. It is extremely important to understand the numbers and ratios that are critical to the growth and success of a business. Having a financial expert in your network will allow you to avoid simple mistakes, perhaps better understand cash flow, and maybe even leverage some partners to reduce your financial risk. This person will also have other experts in their network, potentially even investors who can help fund your startup.

Technology specialist. Technology plays an important role in almost every business that exists today and will be mission critical for future businesses. Even if the company’s product or service is not technology-related, it will need to leverage next-generation wireless, cloud, security, operations, and employee management technologies to effectively leverage the company.

Specific specialist. Depending on your career or startup ambitions, you will need to recruit a specific expert in your network with key industry knowledge or skills. For example, let’s say you want to start an e-commerce business. Having an e-commerce expert, with years of experience, in your network will allow you to learn quickly, avoid simple mistakes, and leverage the right strategy and tools to grow quickly.

Competitive peers. Although most people don’t choose to have peers in their competitive business network, networking is all about building relationships, including people in your professional category. Your “competitors” may have the same business problems as you and have learned to deal with those problems, so you can learn from each other. They can also make great business friends because they understand you better than people outside your company.

You have two choices. Just through everyday life and random connections, introductions and encounters, you will build a network. It can be good or weak. Your other choice is to deliberately build a network that will potentially fuel your career, your startup, and maybe even your life.

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