Here’s a brain teaser for you: In a world where all value seems to be measured by the size of your email list, social following and Facebook group engagement, and where everyone seems to be running around with their new best friend and collaboration partner all the time and everywhere that it makes your head spin, how many people do you actually need to be connected to in order to build and grow the business you want?
Whether it’s a service business where you work 1:1 with clients or a more leveraged course creation business?
As someone who lives on Lake Michigan in central Wisconsin (i.e. Not with all the rest of the cool kids on the beach or in the city), hates getting on airplanes and has still grown and sustained my business for 5 years on connection alone (as my 400 Instagram followers and email list of about the same size will vouch for) I’ll tell you 2 things: the answer will surprise you and it’s probably way less than you’re imagining right now.
So if you’re an introvert who struggles with connection or simply tired of the rat race of more more more, take heart. Running your business on the power of authentic connection is so much easier than you think. All it takes in understanding a little science and theory, applying it to your business and then getting intentional about creating it.
I’ll break down for you exactly how to do all of that below, let you in on the secret of how many connections is the the right number of connections for you and give you a sneak peak of how to know not only how many, but who, you should be connected to.
But before we dive all the way in to tactics, let’s back up and talk about the science behind connection.
Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, discovered that there is a scientific limit to a the number of people with whom you can maintain a social relationship. Introvert or extrovert, we all have the same theoretical limit on how many people we can maintain relationships with.
Dunbar discovered this number to be 150.
Not 5000. Not even 500. 150 people is the maximum number of social relationships you can maintain at any one time.
That both sounds like a lot (looking at all you fellow introverts in the room) and also nothing at all when you realize the world’s population is 7.7 billion and Dunbar’s saying you can have a relationship with all of 150 of them at any one given time.
It also means you have only 150 slots for active relationships in your life. Not just business, but all aspects of your life. Your personal life. Your professional life. Your family life. 150.
When I hear that, a few thoughts cross my mind:
1. How intentional each and every one of us typically is (or, more specifically, is not) about who fits into our 150. Especially in professional settings. I look around and see a lot of people surrounded by other colleagues they happened to run into, people who are convenient to be connected with, and a lot less surrounded by people they intentionally chose to connect with.
2. Given only 150 connections to play with, and the fact that a big slice of those are going to be taken by family and friends, it’s important if not critical to flip that data point above and create intentional connections, not convenient ones. At least if you, like me, want to have the business and life you’re dreaming of.
After all, if the saying goes that you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, think about the impact the 150 people you choose to allow into your life have on you. And even more so for your business, how the slice of that 150 that goes to professional connections can completely transform your business if you get clear on 3 things:
1. How many of your 150 connections should be set aside for professional connections
2. How you’ll begin being intentional about creating and maintaining those relationships.
3. The criteria you’re going to use to decide who you’d like in the slots you set aside for business
I have good news for you and I have bad news for you.
The good news is there’s an easy way to think through how many of your 150 connections you should earmark for your business. The bad news is it’s not an exact number so you’re going to have to do a little math with me.
Let’s walk you though the 4 deciding factors that will calculate your own personal right connection number.
1) Family; 2) Friends; 3) Acquaintances; 4) Professional. If you were to look at the split one-dimensionally, it would be tempting to say divide 150 by 4 and assign each category that many relationships, in this case 37.5 each. One big issue with this approach: Social networks come in different sizes. Some of us have small families, some large. Some of us are introverts who need 2-3 close friends, some of us need more. Some of us have businesses that require lots of support and leads, others only need a few leads each month. That means we can’t keep it as simple as simple division. On to the 2nd deciding factor.
Over time and space your life priorities - and therefore the ideal make up of your network - will shift. I know when I was working full time and at the same time going to school for my MBA at one of the best schools in the world, I had very little time for friends but a big need for a large network of professional colleagues - both at work and at school - to lean on. But when I was burned out and recovering from building my first startup, I needed lots of friends and family around me and not so many professional colleagues. During those times my 150 connections shifted to accommodate what I needed.
Do a quick back of the envelope ranking of which categories are most important in your life right now. If you’re hyper-focused on growing your business, professional will probably be high. If you’re a new mom settling into family life, friends and family might be higher. Or if you’re in one of those magical but fleeting moments in life when it’s feeling like you’ve maybe just maybe got it all figured out, your priorities might feel pretty balanced. Write down where you think you are in terms of priorities.
Now, take those priorities and assign them a percentage value based on how important they currently are while making sure the 4 percentages add to up 100%.
Let’s use me as an example: I’ve recently moved and am actively growing my business, so my 2 clear areas of focus are building new social relationships and new professional ones. Family and acquaintances are cruising right now and don’t need a ton of my attention compared to the other 2 categories, so my percentages look like this:
Now that you know what your percentages are, it’s easy to see how your network should break down. Simply multiply Dunbar’s Number (150) by each percentage you chose above to see how each category should play out.
Friends: 150*35% = 52.5
Professional: 150*35% = 52.5
Family: 150*15% = 22.5
Acquaintances: 150*15% = 22.5
And there you have it. Based on my current priorities, I should be cultivating exactly 52.5 professional relationships. (We’ll call it 53 to be safe;)
Please note: Of course this calculation is an inexact science to help you understand your priorities and how to break down your network. Sanity check these numbers. I have a small family and would have no idea how to find 22 family members to be connected with, so in reality I’ll adjust that number down and adjust my friends and professional targets higher. What is true, though, is that time and again I’ve seen the target numbers best set by your own individual life priority rather than some strategy that if you want x numbers of clients per month you’ll need y number of connections. It doesn’t work that way. Instead your first job is to make room for the correct percentages of connections in each category of your life, and then your next job will be to get very intentional about the quality and ideal characteristics of the people who fill those slots.
Now that you know how much room you have for business connection in your life, it’s time to get strategic about how to use those slots.
And fair warning: If you pay attention to nothing else in this note, pay attention here because this. Is. everything. It’s why there’s no magic number of ‘if you want to sell x have y connections’. It’s quality > quantity, my friends. It’s how I can have a multi-6 figure business with only 400 Instagram followers and an email list of about the same size.
I’m sure most of you (as I have) have learned the hard lesson that the old saying that a lead is a lead is a lead is not at all true. There are bad leads and there are good leads and there are lukewarm leads and I’m guessing you do your best to have a business full of as many of the good leads and as few of the bad leads as humanly possible.
Same goes with connection.
And this is why I get so frustrated when I see you running around with connections that you stumbled upon out of convenience. Maybe you went to a networking event and happened to meet a few other people who happened to be there that night. Maybe a friend who doesn’t really know what your business does introduced you to another friend of hers who also has a business that your friend doesn’t really understand. And sure, maybe you’ve occasionally gotten lucky and stumbled into a great, mutually beneficial connection by making those types of connections. It happens. Same way it happens that you occasionally stumble on a great client by chance. It can happen occasionally, but it’s passive and it leads to a lot more bad connections than good, which means a lot of wasted time and hope and then frustration, and I sure wouldn’t want to to bet my business on a passive strategy like that. I know you don’t bet your lead generation strategy on anything like that.
Or in other words: If it’s not a strategy you’d dream about using for generating leads, it’s not a strategy you should be using for connecting because your connections tend to be just as - if not more important than - your leads in terms of making things happen for your business.
Instead I want you to be active and intentional in the network you’re building the same way you’ve learned to be active and intentional about finding the good leads.
And always, always remember that deciding who should be in your network and finding ways to make that happen is greater than, and will build your business a hell of a lot faster than, passively accepting the first 53 people who happen to come along.
How do you do it? Simple. You create an avatar of your perfect connection the same way you create an avatar of your perfect customer, and then get moving on finding and connecting with that person.
Why do you want connections? Is it for referrals? Partnerships? Clients?
Based on what you want, what are the characteristics of someone who is most likely to be able to provide that to you?
What moral, ethical and personal characteristics do you want in a connection?
Where is this person, and how can you find a way to be present in the same virtual or real life space so you can up your chances of meeting?
Answer those questions and you’ll have a solid start at building your perfect Connection Avatar. If you want to go even deeper (and I recommend that you do) grab the Ideal Connection Avatar worksheet using the form below and I’ll walk you through all the questions you should ask yourself to identify the perfect types of connection for you.
After that, it’s time to start connecting, but that’s a topic for another post. One you can find right here.