As a fledging business owner, having a good small business network is a cornerstone of both short and longterm success. The ability to foster good relationships is one of the fundamental skills that any entrepreneur should seek to master.
It’s also a skillset that stood out to me while interviewing Thomas Jreige for my podcast “The Network with Mike Drysdale.”
Thomas has been in the cyber security industry for over 20 years in a variety of roles, businesses and industries. He recently provided us with a highly valuable guide to understanding the risk associated with cyber security.
Partially, I wondered if those years of diverse experience were what taught him how to connect with so many people. Then, as we got talking it became clear that Thomas’s approach to networking was thoughtful, deliberate and unique. As he continued to share I felt the need to document his philosophy. What follows is a mixture of his values, habits and beliefs around building a world class small business network.
I was introduced to Thomas through a mutual friend of ours by the name of Matt Boardman. Matt and Thomas originally met through BNI, a company that refers to itself as “The Worlds Leading Business Networking Organisation”.
The BNI network is separated into various chapters, depending on location and members are required to refer one another business. Despite belonging to different chapters, Matt and Thomas have worked together and make an effort to refer each other business. This behaviour is spurred on by a philosophy that Thomas lives by and BNI refers to as: “The Givers Gain”.
The ‘Givers Gain’ Philosophy
“You’ve got to give to take and sometimes you need to give more (than you take)”. This is the cornerstone philosophy of BNI networking: To give without the expectation of return. To generate good will from giving graciously and letting the authentic returns come in time.
“Helping others thrive will help your business thrive”. Thomas admits that sometimes the only way to get this message across is by being the first one to give. Likewise, he warns about the expiry date that comes with only marketing your organisation from a me first perspective.
“Helping others thrive will help your business thrive”
“People will always go to the next best thing. But when you’re in front of people talking about your business and providing referrals at the same time, people remember that. From a good will perspective, from a business perspective and then they’ll reciprocate that in the future.”
Referring Someone Who Can’t Refer You Back
It’s easy to take the ‘Givers Gain’ advice when you know you’re going to reap a reward. But what about when you refer someone that you know will struggle to be able to refer you back?
Take an electrician and a cyber security expert for instance. Everyone needs an electrician from time to time, but the market for cyber security is highly specific. Does that make the relationship less valuable for the cyber security expert? Not if you ask Thomas Jreige. It’s all about seeing the bigger picture.
Thomas went on to explain to us why his version of this relationship is still worth it’s weight in gold. “It’s a matter of building trust. If you don’t build trust with people, not only your referring partners, but also your network, you’re going to lose. Trust is everything.”
“It’s a matter of building trust. If you don’t build trust, you’re going to lose.”
The Director of Enertech Group, Shane Ness is Thomas’s real life case study of the value of this type of relationship. After doing a great job of fixing his air conditioner, Thomas referred Shane to around ten different clients. The business Shane was able to refer back to Thomas may not have been as much. However, he did such a good job with Thomas’s clients that the result was an overwhelming net positive.
“Any time you recommend someone that does a great job, it reflects well on you”. With that in mind, referring Shane business became an investment in Thomas’s overall reputation. Which as Thomas points out “It’s like having two fish and chip shops in the same street. The one that has the best reputation is generally the one that builds the stronger business.”
Making good recommendations shows that you have sound judgement. It builds your track record and rapport with clients. A good referral works for you as much as they work for the person you’re referring them too.
Trust and Integrity Matter In a Small Business Network
Trust and integrity are two of the core values of Thomas’s company Focus Cyber Group. Principally, because “without trust and integrity you don’t build relationships”. There are a couple of obvious factors that go into building trust and integrity. Namely, producing high quality outputs, always keeping promises and doing the things you say you’ll do. One of the more enlightening forms of building integrity Thomas suggests is honesty when diagnosing problems within a business.
“If you find something and it’s not great for the organisation, don’t be afraid to report it. Some companies like to play with the wording to make things seem like they’re not so bad”. But Thomas says you should never pull punches when reporting a problem. Even when the scope of work might scare a new client. Once everything is out in the open, then you can start a new conversation. One about scaling back to what’s absolutely necessary based on risk to the business. Transparency from the beginning is key to building that trust.
Then it’s a matter of the simple things:
- When somebody contacts you, contact them back with the intention that you want that conversation.
- Be genuine about who you are with everything you do.
- If an email or SMS is a simple request that doesn’t require a conversation, acknowledge that you got their message and that you’re onto it!
The Role of Politicians In a Small Business Network
Over the years Thomas has been extremely savvy in making politicians an integral part of his small business network. The benefit however doesn’t come from posing for photos with Canberra’s elite. It’s about “Being able to develop a relationship with someone who’s in a different caliber to your business.”
Speaking to politicians certainly takes most people out of their comfort zones and according to Thomas, that’s the whole point. One of the philosophies of Focus Cyber Group is that both feet should be squarely outside of the comfort zone at all times. The reason being that Thomas believes if you’re challenged, you’ll do your best work.
“I’m a big believer that both feet should always be out of your comfort zone.”
Another benefit of being on a first name basis with your local member is the influence they have at networking events. “They’re never shy to make introductions, it’s part of what they do. Politicians at the end of the day are relationship builders. They’re great for introducing you to that next layer of people. Making those nice, warm introductions that mean you don’t have to be cold calling.” And as anyone with sales experience would know: There’s almost nothing better than being qualified to a prospect by a figure of authority.
Making an intentional decision to expand your network into getting to know more of your local members involves taking action. You have to join chambers of commerce, local business associations, networking groups and regularly attend events. Because these are the places where you have opportunities to make these connections. It’s a matter of understanding that everybody’s equal and wanting to know diverse range of people.
Making a Good First Impression
Thomas’s number one pet hate is being handed business cards straight out of the gate. “It’s not developing rapport or a relationship it’s merely saying this is my name… Well I can see that on your name tag”. Instead, Thomas recommends taking a step back, building that rapport and starting an authentic relationship by looking for common ground. “Have a drink, have a few nibbles and start a conversation. It could be about the catering or what brought you to the chamber or business association in the first place”. You may discover that the person your speaking to is new and wants to speak to particular types of people. Maybe even people in your niche.
Either way, there’s a lot of value to be had in playing the role of the connector. People remember the first person that made them feel comfortable in a new or challenging environment. As we discussed earlier, all relationships have the potential to be valuable, even if they’re not directly referring you business. So what should you focus on?
- Learn more about their business and their goals in being part of the chamber.
- Focus on what the point of difference is in their business and how they communicate it.
- Follow the ratio of two ears, one mouth. Listen more than you speak and put your energy into understanding as much about them as possible.
- Identify the best people to introduce them to in order to progress their goals
When you lead with what you can give and are overly generous with your time it leads to stronger relationships. The connections you make will usually feel compelled to help you at every opportunity. It’s reciprocity for the help you’ve given them. Those that don’t are fine too, don’t begrudge them or let them stunt your generosity toward others.
These four tenants of behaviour are the cornerstone of how Thomas built his small business network. Through BNI he learnt to give and refer generously without the expectation of return. In Shane Ness he found a valuable connection that reflects well on him every time he recommends his services. Being active in chambers of commerce and local business associations allows Thomas to connect with politicians. These relationships have led to countless valuable introductions that mean he doesn’t have to cold call to get leads. Finally, in every interaction, Thomas leads with what he can give, builds rapport, seeks to understand and finds common ground. So get out there, start making introductions, stay curious and build a small business network that works for you.
Connect with Thomas
You can listen to the rest of our in depth chat on cyber security and building a strong small business network on SoundCloud. Simply check out the Thomas Jreige episode of ‘The Network with Mike Drysdale’ embedded below.
More on Building a Small Business Network
➡ OnMoneyMaking.com – Seth Godins 7 Tips For Becoming A Master Networker
➡ Americanised – How to Find a Business Mentor: Accelerating Your Startup
➡ Noah Kagan – How to Become Friends with VIPs and Famous Entrepreneurs
➡ Tim Ferriss – How to Get George Bush or the CEO of Google on the Phone
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✅ Charlie Gunningham on How To Sell A Small Business
✅ Tom Kooy on Action Setting and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
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