How to be a superconnector

Consultant Marian Zizzo explains how to build your global network.

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Last month the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosted GiveGetWin’s summer bootcamp, a free two-week program for aspiring entrepreneurs. (GiveGetWin is like Groupon, but it’s run by volunteers, the goods and services for sale are donated, and all money raised goes to charity.)

Each weekday of the camp, a different industry expert somewhere in the world hosted a webinar for the group. The final speaker was Marian Zizzo, founder of the Bay Area consulting firm Triple Impact Partners, which “assists social enterprises with global expansion strategies, business modeling, partnerships, business development, and corporate philanthropy.”

Zizzo explained how, in four years, she transformed herself from a graduate student with “no network whatsoever. I didn’t even have a LinkedIn account” to a business owner with a “pretty extensive global network.” Her three-part process:

Step one

Proactively help others in their work.

Give something to your professional contacts without being asked or requesting anything in return. It could be as simple as sending someone an article with a short note, Zizzo says: “This made me think of you.”

Introduce your network to your network, preferably through “offline interactions,” such as dinners, salons, or hangouts. Invite six to eight people—a small enough group for one conversation. Consider setting a theme to discuss. Ask questions, going around the table so everyone can answer. End with one final question: What is your biggest challenge right now? What do you need help with? Afterward connect everyone by email.

You can also connect contacts by electronically introducing people who could help each other. Be sure to ask both people first before you share email addresses. “Please do not be the person who sends the email without asking for permission,” Zizzo says.

“Right now,” she tells the group, “think of 10 people you want to help this year. Make an intentional list of 10 people.” Figure out a way to give back before you ask for anything.

Step two

Help people when they ask.

“It’s hard to ask for help,” Zizzo says. If somebody is asking you, they must see you as a leader—an expert in something.

“We all have the same 168 hours per week. Set aside a few of those hours to help other people.” That might mean reviewing a blog post before it goes live, sitting in on an investor meeting, or participating in a beta test of a new app.

Wherever you are in your career, there’s always someone a little bit behind you. Consider becoming a mentor. “I promise you, you’ll get more out of it than they will,” Zizzo says.

Volunteering is important too. Whatever you feel passionately about—maybe sending books to Tanzania or cooling down the planet—find some time to work on it. VolunteerMatch.org and MovingWorlds are good places to start, as is GiveGetWin, the sponsor of the bootcamp. “I can’t say enough about how much volunteering enriches your network,” Zizzo says. “Seventy five percent of my deep network has come from volunteer work.”

Step three

Ask for help yourself.

“One of my main recommendations is to ask for mentorship,” says Zizzo. “I would not be in this position without a fleet of mentors.”

Think of some people in your life you respect. Ask if you can email them regularly—“once a week or once a month, whatever feels right”—to update them on your goals and career progress. “Do this for six months and see what ends up happening. I promise you, magic happens.”

Online you can ask for recommendations and testimonials—on LinkedIn, for example. You can also use your online connections to build your network while you’re traveling. Say you’re planning to visit Mexico City. Ask your contacts what you should do there and if there’s anyone you should meet.

Try to stay with locals. “I just went to 10 different states, staying with different people. Supporters of every political party,” Zizzo says.

Staying in someone’s home “breaks down cultural barriers,” she says. It’s those authentic connections that help build a strong global network.

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