The typical American knows on average 600 people.
But if you add up all your connections on LinkedIn, friends on Facebook and everyone else you’ve talked to over the past few years, the number is probably much larger. Yet, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you underestimate the power of your existing network when launching a new venture.
When a friend who owned a beauty salon decided to transition into a new industry, she automatically sought out new connections to get her venture off the ground. What she didn’t realize was that her existing contact database contained 3,000 potential customers and backers. She just needed to reintroduce herself to them in the context of her new business.
Reconnecting with people you already know gives you access to a huge untapped network of people you haven’t met. Even if no one in your existing network becomes a customer or can give you the help you need, they might know someone who can.
Your existing network is the best place to start when launching a new venture because it requires little effort to engage with those contacts. They’re familiar with your backstory. And as long as you’ve established a positive relationship, they already like and trust you.
Steer clear of close friends and family members, but former colleagues, business partners, clients and mentors would likely be happy to be involved.
Here are six strategies to help you re-engage with your connections:
1. Organize your network.
When your kitchen counter is cluttered, you literally can’t see the mug you’re looking for even if it’s right in front of you. But when you clear the dishes away and pluck out your bills from amid the junk mail, the cup suddenly appears.
Similarly, it’s necessary to organize your network listings to see what you’re looking for. You can divide your LinkedIn contacts into groups, such as customers, mentors, colleagues and suppliers. Often, a name will jump out at you, and you’ll come up with a bright idea simply by organizing the list of contacts in your life.
2. Know that mentorship comes before money.
Before you ask for funds or a referral, ask in a genuine fashion for guidance or opinions. If the people in your network get to know your product first out of curiosity, they’ll be more likely to give you funds, send you referrals or become a customer.
3. Always give.
Before, during and after asking for help, always brainstorm about how you can add value for these individuals.
4. Become active on LinkedIn.
You’re probably already connected with most of your network on LinkedIn. Providing insightful content is one way to build social capital and re-engage with older connections.
Regularly posting about what you’re working on, sharing your expertise and addressing the challenges of your new market are great ways to nurture your network so your contacts are aware and want to get involved.
5. Host a launch party in partnership with a charity.
Staging a social event in connection with the announcement of your latest venture is a fun and meaningful way to create a positive brand image and re-engage with your network.
Your new venture need not be the focus of the event, but you can also make an announcement. Or find a way to involve the charity in the launch.
6. Express gratitude.
You might feel shy about reaching out for help. So start by expressing gratitude for the help you’ve received so far. You’ve probably heard the advice to make “gratitude lists.” But how often do you take the time to send a card to those who have helped you?
Setting a goal, such as sending five thoughtful cards a month, will put you in a drastically more powerful head space, let you reconnect with your network and make you feel good.
The best resources for starting your new endeavor are often the ones already in hand. If you’re hesitant to reach out to your network, just remember that these people already know you and want you to succeed.
Come from a place of generosity and find a way to add value for them, and you’ll be surprised by how many of your contacts will bend over backward to help.