The value in building business relationships and networks

I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy from the box. The main crew is having a Christmas dinner. One of the side kicks got an invite to the dinner, because she’s going out with one of the main crew. She wonders if she should go. Her colleagues tell her she’s crazy not to go. Because she has been offered a seat at The Table. Once she gets in, she can conquer the world.

Relationships are power – especially for entrepreneurs

My advice: Invest heavily in building a valuable network and good relations with people within your own industry as well as in other industries connected to your cause and business.

What I’ve learned during my own journey is that all business decisions are made based on trust. If you have no reputation or trust in the eyes of the decision makers, it will be pretty difficult to get what you need.

A real example: For years I put off the thought of becoming an entrepreneur because I thought sales equals to cold calling and the thought of cold calling still makes me want to vomit. I realized I could go around my weakness by building on my strengths. I have not made a cold call since 2012. Instead I started investing time heavily into building relationships and my personal brand. Today, I could personally easily live on the inbound I get. But don’t think it comes for free. You’ve got to give, give, give, give, give before it starts to return on your investment. But it’s worth it.

How to build relationships?

The only true answer is the way you build relationships in your personal life as well. Fake attempts can and will be spotted from a far. Here’s a few tips:

  1. Be authentic – be who you are, but be nice. Always be nice to people. Nobody likes assholes, fact of life.
  2. Be trustworthy – if you promise something, keep it. And preferably under promise and over deliver.
  3. Invest in getting to know people – like genuinely. Listen to them, be interested in them as human beings
  4. Give something of yours – in business terms is about sharing what you know
  5. Give favors, a lot of favors – eventually people will feel obligated to return the favor

The biggest mistake is to be in touch only when you need something. And if someone tells you confidential matters, remember it only takes one time to break the trust. In Silicon Valley they apparently test people. Throw them bloody hooks to see if they hit someone. If you blab it away, well, it’s not exactly a good way to build a relationship, is it?

How I network and build relationships

I didn’t have much of networks when I started as an entrepreneur. One may not guess, but I’m actually a bit timid. I’m not comfortable alone in a room full of strangers unless they help me a bit. Before I became an entrepreneur, I worked in HR – an internal service where you really tend to build relationships internally. I never went to any local HR meetings or events. I probably should have, but I didn’t feel comfortable in the conservative groups. I was always the odd one out in HR anyway. I related better with business people than HR people.

I had to literally start from zero when I became an entrepreneur. I had three pretty critical obstacles on my way of making it as an entrepreneur: no sales experience, not liking cold calling and not knowing anyone.

I decided to go around my weaknesses. I tagged along with entrepreneur friends, who were much better in networking and already knew everyone. They introduced me to a lot of people. Once I know people, I’m ok.

At the same time I started blogging (this was 2009) and HR bloggers in Finland at the time were far and a few. This helped me to build a personal brand – although I have to admit, it took me many years before I realized I’ve built a personal brand! In fact, I only realized it when I started to notice a pattern in university students approaching me with their thesis interviews. Most of the topics were about social media marketing and personal branding on social media. Funnily enough, I then understood I’ve managed to build a personal brand by accident.

Combining face to face time and social media time has helped. People approach me, which suits my timid character better. Over the years I’ve dedicated a lot of hours into two networks: one is more recreational (read champagne related networking with some amazing women) and the other is about entrepreneurship.

My main business networks

Ladies in Business (the header picture) is a closed network of about 40 – well – ladies in business. We’ve been networking on a monthly basis since 2009. The other, my pride and joy is Boardman2020 – the leading network of Finnish growth entrepreneurs, investors, business angels and board members. I’ve been active in the board of Boardman2020 most of my entrepreneur career and a chairman of the board since January 2014. It has helped tremendously in my efforts to build credibility among pretty much all the key decision makers in the Finnish growth business scene.

Especially Boardman2020 adds a lot of hours on the top of my work, but I believe it is one of the key reasons why I don’t have to make any cold calls, so we’re even. And it’s not just about making sales – ever! It’s so much more about relationships, getting to know great, ambitious and inspirational people, the other entrepreneurs who have gone through the same steps and struggles and give you great tips on what to avoid and what to go for. There is not a single business problem anymore that I would not have someone to spar with, someone to talk to about it, someone to help me forward to the right person or open a door for me when I cannot do it myself. But you cannot go into this thinking you can just ask for a lot of favors without putting any effort in. It did not start paying off to me immediately and it is not an endless box of magic. You gotta give in all the time. But that’s what it is all about: paying it forward.

Building relationships definitely adds quality to your entrepreneur life. And can get you far. As far as you probably want to go.

Good luck in pumping up the trust!

Love, S


Photo: Elina Koivumäki (2015, Ladies in Business)


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