Matthew Neyland – Co-Founder & Board Member – Matthew Neyland is currently a partner and co-founder of Core Directional Services, LLC — an energy services company. Previously, Matt served as an active duty officer in the United States Marine Corps from 2003-2007 and in the reserves from 2007-2010. Most recently, he served as the Head of Strategy and Operations for the Brain Performance Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas. Prior to that, Matt was a co-founder of Thin Centers MD, LLC — a preventive healthcare company. Mr. Neyland has a J.D. degree from the University of Denver, and a BBA in finance and a BA in history from Southern Methodist University.
Try this mental exercise: Think of the top three or four problems you are facing as an entrepreneur right now. Do you need more money? More quality employees? Do you have a complex legal or tax question? Maybe your biggest problem is finding a way to get your foot in the door of a potential client for which your product or service would be ideally suited. Now ask yourself, “How many people do I know whom I would be completely comfortable asking for help in solving these problems?” If in the next couple of minutes you can’t begin making a list of names, or if you can but wouldn’t dare ask them for help, you probably need to invest more time and energy into refining your networking skills.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve found having a strong network is just as vital a resource to my business as access to capital or talent. Personally, my network has helped me raise money and gain access to new clients. Further, my network became the source of most of my professional support, such as legal, insurance and accounting. That said, it wasn’t always the case that I had connections to individuals I could tap for business purposes (I certainly wasn’t born with them). I had to learn how to create, grow and cultivate a strong network — often through trial and error. Over the years, I‘ve had to work at establishing professional relationships. Below are a couple of tips I’ve picked up along the way. Hopefully, for any entrepreneur or someone aspiring to be one, these tips can be useful to you and your business.
Fundamentally, networking is all about creating mutually beneficial relationships. Keeping that in mind, your first priority in establishing a professional relationship with someone begins with thinking about how you can help them. For example, even if I’m initiating the connection because of a specific business goal, I begin with thinking about how I could deliver something of value to my potential client first. I ask myself a couple of quick questions: What do I think this person cares about? Who do I think might be a good person for this person to know? How can I help them achieve their business objectives? I ask myself these questions because networking is all about developing valuable, trustworthy relationships, and I’ve found that the fastest way to start creating value and earning trust is by showing an earnest willingness to help the other party.
Also, it lets the other person know a couple of things: 1) the time or effort he/she spends with you will be worth it, and 2) you are actually interested in him/her as a person and not just what you will get for yourself. Most importantly, it really feels good knowing you can help further someone else’s objectives. Helping and serving others tends to come back around – especially in the business world.
Have you ever been in the situation where you just weren’t sure how to talk about business with someone you only knew in a personal capacity? Sometimes it can be really awkward. An acquaintance of mine had a great suggestion. Having spent most of his career in wealth management, he made a living out of developing strong relationships. His advice was simple, but it makes a ton of sense: Ask permission of the person to get to know them professionally. Basically, he suggested something along the lines of “Hey, I really liked getting to know you personally, but I would also like to get to know you professionally. Is there a time we might be able to get together and I can share what I do with you and learn more about your business?” It sounds kind of hokey at first, but in practice I have found it to be a great way to bridge a personal and professional relationship, especially if I met someone in a situation completely unrelated to business – like going to the same church or gym, or through my wife. Also, the simple act of asking permission to get to know someone professionally establishes clarity. I know that in my experience it has definitely helped make the transition from personal acquaintance to a professional I count in my network far less awkward.
But Beware of Traps
Recently, I attended a networking event put on by alumni members of Leadership Dallas, which is a leadership development group sponsored by the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce. (It’s a fantastic organization to build your network, by the way.) The event’s keynote speaker was Beverly Wright of Wright Choice Group, LLC. Beverly provided a number of useful suggestions on effective networking, but the slide that caught my attention the most was one that identified some of the traps people fall into when trying to “network.” Some of the big mistakes she laid out are:
- Don’t focus on quantity vs. quality of your network
- Don’t let your network atrophy and remain static
- Don’t think that your network is just people you know and that know you
- Avoid not being intentional about building your network
- Don’t forget to be prepared to network (remember your business cards!)
- Avoid not following up or following through on commitments
- Avoid having no plan or way to manage your network contacts
Again, even if you don’t feel you are a “natural” networker or the “sales-y” type, there are plenty of ways you can develop, cultivate and grow your network. And I promise, a great network will be a very valuable resource to you and your business. Hopefully these tips help you as you strengthen and build your network – they have certainly been useful to me.