Darrah Brustein started her payments processing technology company at the ripe age of 25. The Emory graduate had worked in retail and seen a persistent lack of transparency when it came to merchants, particularly small businesses, in the credit card processing arena. Ever a proponent of more positive business relationships, Brustein and her twin brother founded Equitable Payments to help merchants see fairer, more transparent pricing.
By building relationships and providing value, Brustein grew the company quickly (they now operate in 38 states). And in 2011, she formalized her knack for being a “super-connector” with an additional venture, Network Under 40, a meet up and events company that was created to help build and foster those connections Brustein values so highly. They have a presence in six cities and aim for 40 in the next seven years.
“I’m deeply invested in teaching about networking and connecting,” says Brustein, who also writes about smart networking and relationships for Forbes. “It’s amazing what true relationships can bring to the table, especially for entrepreneurs.”
Be valuable to others first
“In the early days (of starting my company) I remember walking into a business environment at the age of 25, looking around and thinking, I am literally the age of everyone here’s children. It did rattle me a little, but I found that as soon as I delivered value to people, as soon as I followed through on any promise big or small, from, I’ll see you at the next event to, I’ll email you tomorrow or I’ll get you that contact you want, people started to take me seriously — and it didn’t matter at all what my age was. It was the value I brought to the table.
When you approach a relationship, bring your curiosity for the other person first — ask, how can I bring value to you and provide value in creating relationships between you and someone else in my network? If that’s how you go into the situation, being predominately interested in and focused on the other person, it eradicates the possibility of anyone being negative towards you at all because it’s so focused on them and the possibility of you benefitting them.”
To build a big network, start small
“We all have a network at any point in our life — it’s the people around you, the people you grew up with, your family, friends, former classmates, the people in your office. I think the statistic is that everyone has 200 or more contacts — many of us have more than that, but let’s call that the average. So you have this significant amount of people you already have connections with — start there.
Re-connect with people you got out of touch with. What are they up to in the world, how can you help them in some way? Build that relationship first, then say, here’s where I think we could work together. I think most people are willing to help, but you have to put it in a really easy way that’s bite-sized and tangible and makes it simple for them.”
Once you’ve built that first layer, ask for introductions. Say, who else do you think I should know? Then follow up. They’re going to be more inclined to continue to make introductions for you with that value-based proposition for them, and you’re going to become someone who people want to make introductions to. And finally, join communities. Look for groups where your interests align and you’ll find you will make the best connections there.”
Treat your reputation as your best currency
“When you are that person that does all the things you said you would do — follows up, adds value and provides services and a network, you continue to elevate your reputation and credibility. It’s always fantastic when someone opens the door for you, because they’re allowing you to follow on the coattails of their reputation and their credibility; they trust you enough to continue to maintain a positive value. Anytime you can have an introduction made in that positive of a manner, you have to recognize that’s a gift and treat it as such.
Set some boundaries and stick to them
“You can already feel like you’re working at a disadvantage when you’re younger. Something that came up for me a lot was time — people always wanting to make me drive across town for a lunch meeting, when really it could be a ten minute phone call. I just started having to create boundaries for myself and putting out a framework and an expectation that I needed my time to be respected — and if I knew I was handling the situation with respect but gracefully, and they refused to see it as such, that’s on them and not on me. And what you tend to find more often than not is when you set those boundaries, people are going to either respect them, or they’re not worth your time.”
Kill ‘em with kindness
“If someone is treating you in a way that’s not necessarily fair, that’s where you just have to continue to craft the highest-level reputation for yourself. Remember, everyone has their own baggage, so know that the way anyone is treating you is nothing more than a projection of something they have going on themselves. The more you can stop and consider that they’re going through something, that can help elevate you and set you apart. Even if it’s in a work situation, where you don’t get to select everyone who’s around you, you can still be friendly and nice and engaged without being deeply invested. You don’t have to be a resource or a mentor, but you can certainly be fair and respectful.”
Featured photo by John Whately
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