The strength of your database begins with you, according to Jeff Roth. If you are working on yourself and your business and showing up in the world trying to add value, others will respond in kind.

The verdict is in — the old way of doing business is over. Join us at Inman Connect New York Jan. 23-25, when together we’ll conquer today’s market challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities. Defy the market and bet big on your future.

This post was updated Nov. 6, 2023.

Your ability to grow and maintain your network will be the lifeblood of your business. Neglect your network and relationships in your database, and your business will suffer. It’s like a living organism. Let’s discuss systems to grow your network and maintain your database so you are always reaping the fruits of your effort.

Where to start building your database

Nobody is without a network, and everyone’s network of relationships is bigger than they initially think. You start your network with yourself. Jim Rohn said, “Success is not to be pursued. It is to be attracted by the person you become.”

That means you must show up in the world in a way that other people will respect and value and want to be a part of. If you want people to refer business to you, you must refer business or add value to them.

If you want people to remember you, you must remember them. Simple gestures like remembering their birthday or asking them to coffee to see how their life is going for them with nothing else on the agenda but their wellbeing and success go a long way.

If you want to add to your network, you must add to other people’s networks by sharing your relationships and contacts to help them.

Basically, prepare yourself to be the best version of yourself, and then go out into the world to add value. If you do that, growing your network will not be a problem. As you help others, others will want to help you.

The best way to build a highly productive network without spending money

You are in business, and you have to find other people like you to build your network with — your business partners. When you start out in real estate sales, your sales coach or office manager will tell you to start with your sphere of influence or the people you know.

This of course makes sense because these people already know, like and trust you, but it is very hard not to come across as transactional or disingenuous when you are pestering your friends and family for referrals and sharing the latest “market update.”

People are very smart and do not like to feel sold or in a relationship that is transactional, where you expect something from them. They want to feel like you genuinely care about them and their success and well-being. The best people to build your network with is other business owners like yourself.

The database building formula

1. Find groups of local business owners and introduce yourself. Start with groups that do not charge to belong or let you visit the group before joining for free. These are people like you who are interested in growing their business and appreciate anyone that can help them do that. In return, they will want to help you.

2. Make individual connections and get their contact information or business card. If they ask about you, great. If not, that is not the focus.

3. Go home and send them an email saying how nice it was to meet them, and if they have time for coffee, you would love to hear more about them and their business. If they don’t have time for coffee, no problem. If they do, just continue the conversation about them and get to know them.

4. Then, write them a handwritten thank you card, thanking them for taking the time to talk to you and explain you look forward to talking to them again soon. Include your business card in the thank-you card to subtly remind them what business you are in and give them something to use to refer others to you.

5. Next, try to connect with them on every social media platform the person is on. If they connect with you, great; if they don’t, it’s OK. The relationship and their email are the most important. Use the social media connections to like and re-share their posts and business-related content to your other small business connections that are also looking for ways to grow their connections and business as well.

6. Now, probably the most important step, send these business connection referrals from your other business connections, and send them the information you come across you think will help the person or their business.

As a result, when you post information on social media about your business or when you see this business owner again, they will remember you and want to send you referrals and let others know about your business because you did that for them.

Basically, you want to create and be a part of a database of motivated businesspeople like yourself that will want to help you grow your database and business because you helped them do the same.

This is the secret sauce of small business development, and you don’t need to pester your friends and family. As a result, they too will see your success and want to try to help you and be a part of it because they are your friends and family.

A real-life success story 

In one of the small business networking meetings I attended, I met a woman who does upholstery for individuals and businesses. In our initial conversation, I asked her if she did marine upholstery as I have a boat, and it will likely need upholstery work at some point.

As she gave me her business card, she shared with me that her mother may be moving to be closer to her. After a few days, I circled back to her business card, emailed her and thanked her for talking with me. I told her that I appreciated the work she did. I asked what social media sites she was active on so we could stay connected.

Once we were connected on social media, I was able to see the upholstery work she was doing for others. I started by liking her posts, and then I would repost an interesting example to my network once a week.

As soon as I did that, I had someone in my network ask if that was my boat in the post. I said no and explained I was just trying to help another small business owner who does good work.

Long story short, she got an upholstery job from this person in my network. Then, she called me with her mother, and now I have the privilege of helping her mother move closer to her daughter and sell the mother’s existing house.

All of this happened because I had the mindset of connecting to add value, and in return, I was rewarded for my effort.

It doesn’t take money to build a powerful database

Start by thinking of your database network like a living organism and set about to feed and nurture the relationships in the database to keep them alive. The strength of your database begins with you. If you are working on yourself and your business and showing up in the world trying to add value, others will respond in kind.

Build your database with people like you — other business owners. As a result of your interest in helping them, they will want to help you without you needing to ask or pester your friends and family. The result will be your friends and family will want to be a part of your success and help you, too.

Jeff Roth is the founder of Arbor Advising. You can connect with him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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