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As an entrepreneur, creating and maintaining good relationships is essential to my success.  Certainly, my ability to deliver high quality products and content is vital. Writing winning proposals is crucial. And thinking critically in order to solve complex problems is a necessity. But, what I’ve learned over the years is it has been my relationships with key people that has often led to opportunities for me to accomplish many of these things.

As I reflect on the past 12 months, the experiences I’ve shared, the opportunities I’ve had and my plans for the upcoming year,  I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with a good friend.  He agreed that building new relationships is important for professional growth; however, he cautioned me not to “confuse your network with your personal circle, because a person’s network should always be bigger than their circle”. His words still resonate with me as I’m discovering that the key to feeling satisfied and fulfilled in life is effectively maintaining both your circle and your network.

Our network is an ecosystem of people  we are connected to either directly or through mutual relationships. Our network can be very valuable both personally and professionally by helping us to secure resources, get information, gain access or accomplish goals. But, not everyone in our network should be in our inner circle.

Our inner circle is tight-knit and reserved for the people closest to us. The people we love and trust. The ones we go to for advice and support. The ones who we share our special experiences, our precious possessions, and who we can rely on during our most vulnerable moments.  As we grow our circle may decrease in size but it should increase in value.

As the New Year approaches, I encourage you to add expanding your network and strengthening your circle to the list of goals you have for yourself. I’ve found doing so has resulted in opportunities and experiences that have been nothing short of life changing. Since relationships continue to be a key to success here are a few ways to get the most out of yours:

  • Be Curious – One of my favorite sayings is “if you want to have better conversations, ask better questions”. Be curious. Learn more about the people you meet, what makes them tick, what feel-good moments give them pleasure, and what challenges cause them pain. Learn about their background, their journey, and how they arrived at this place/event/situation or moment in time. It may feel weird at first, but you will get used to it. The more you know about someone, the easier it becomes to figure out how you can help them and how they may in turn help you.
  • Make Yourself Useful – Find ways to add value. Don’t be pushy or overbearing, but if you notice an opportunity to help somebody reach their goals, politely offer to help. By sharing your knowledge, experiences, ideas or resources that can assist with moving people closer to success you create good vibes that make people want to be a part of your network.
  • Be True to Your Word – If you say your going to do something, or say you can do something DO it. Period. There is no faster way to fall out of good graces than by being unreliable.
  • Be Consistent –The devil is in the details, but the fortune is in the follow-up. Following up is key! Don’t just initiate contact when you need something. Check-in with people. See how they are doing, ask about their progress, give them an update on yours. In a time when social media and technology is the default mode of communication, a good ol’ fashioned phone call or face-to-face meet up can go a long way.
  • Keep Your Circle Sharp –Our inner circle contains our most important relationships; therefore, it is important to help the people in our inner circle stay sharp. Iron sharpens iron, so while you’re out trying to save or take over the world, don’t forget to help the people who are closest to you. If you believe that like a chain your circle is only as strong as its weakest link, you will likely benefit from helping to strengthen the other links of your circle.

Remember, your network should always be bigger than your circle. I challenge you to expand the people in  your network and work to sharpen the people your circle. Doing so may pose more risks, but it will likely garner bigger rewards. A proverb  says “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  If you want to go farther this year than you did in last year make sure relationships are a part of your journey. Make sure your network is working and expanding. And make sure you help your circle stay strong.

Cheers to the New Year. I’ll see you in the winner’s circle. Keep pushing.