Everybody has heard the expression, “It’s not what you know – but who you know.” That’s partially true and I’d say the ability to create high-level connections has been a big factor in my success over the last 15+ years - but I’ve done it differently. So what do I do?

Insight #1: Ask better questions 

When I meet people I look for any connections we have outside of work. In fact, I purposefully do not ask, “What do you do?” unless they ask me first. Of course, I’m interested but I’d much rather find out something unusual about them. One powerful question to ask is, “What are you most excited about right now?

This is such a great question because they decide what to cover, it might be work or personal. I never get tired listening to someone who is passionate or excited about a subject they care about. And once I hear what it is for them the conversation can continue with me providing a resource or making an introduction (see next tip). 

Insight #2: Make valuable introductions

When I meet someone, I am always consciously thinking about who in my existing network can help them. This is a trait some of the best connectors I know do – they are extremely generous with introductions where it makes sense. However, there is an art to making a good introduction because it has to be mutually beneficial to both parties. When you do make the intros explain why you believe each person would benefit.

Insight #3: Be distinctive

I’ve been known to buy a couple dozen shots and start handing them out at the bar during an event. It fits my personality plus it gets people to say ‘Hello’ to me who I wouldn’t normally meet. Or maybe even dressing up as a showgirl to surprise Richard before a keynote presentation in Vegas.

Insight #4: Get Diverse

Some of my favourite connections have come way outside of business. It might be out of charities I support, sports teams I play on or any other kind of hobby. There’s truly a different kind of connection formed with a common interest first, and business second. Please use this as permission to free yourself from activities you think you need to do in order to meet the right potential clients or connections. If you hate golf - stop hanging out at the country club! 

Virgin Unite, Yanik Silver, Richard Branson

Insight #5: Become prolific and prominent

This may not be for everybody but something to consider. If you can get on a stage, write a book, become an expert, etc. – you’ll have people seeking you out. There’s a big difference when you can build some prominence in your field and a solid reputation. This doesn’t happen overnight but it is well worth the effort. Even having a distinctive blog or social media voice is a big help in this way.

Insight #6: Follow-up

This one is easy to do but just as easy to forget. I shoot quick texts, emails, article or even a book over to people when I know it’s something they’re interested in. One of my favourite follow-ups is a personal handwritten note. I know this seems outdated now but I guarantee it makes a huge impression precisely because everything is so digital today.

Insight #7: Become the connective hub

Almost every high-level connection I’ve had has been a result of meeting someone in person. The original intro could have started online or via email – but it was only when you sit down with someone that there’s been a deeper bond. That’s one reason attending seminars and events are so worthwhile. 

Now if you want to take this to another level you can create the reason to bring people together. I’m a big believer in making you the “connective hub” by hosting dinners, experiences and events. Think of it as creating a ‘sandbox’ for exceptional individuals to connect together. In fact, that’s one of the reason I started my own network of entrepreneurs called Maverick1000. We’ve done everything from fly MiG jets in Russia to build self-sustaining villages in Haiti. These shared unique or intense experiences actually accelerate business deals coming together and so many members eager to help each other.

When I meet someone, I am always consciously thinking about who in my existing network can help them.

However, you don’t need to go this far. Just hosting a regular dinner is a way to get people together. Encourage guests to bring one remarkable friend or colleague and you’ve now increased your own network. Don’t over think it. When you put smart people in the room together you don’t need to do much.

Finally, all of these insights only work if you genuinely want to connect to someone without keeping score or worrying about what can you get from them this very moment. I like to invest in relationships that could last for decades. That means not trying to amass all the benefits instantly. And that counts for business transactions too. I like to ensure the other person has a bigger win than I do so they never feel like I got a better deal. That might happen once but it won’t happen for years and years. To me, the best connections come from deepening ties that build over time. 

– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.