On a hot August night, a friend of mine told me that I have the most powerful social capital out of anyone of his friends. Within a second, a concept clicked in my mind that I have been looking to describe for some time. We live in an era where everything is about connection. Because of technological advances and modernization, we have come to live in a world where people prefer to email and text instead of connecting with people face-to-face. For this reason, it increased people’s need to connect and belong where societal isolation may be more and more common.

What is social capital? It’s not just about having friends or knowing people. It’s about the relationships you foster with people, and the potential these relationships have. When you build a powerful social capital network, not only can you benefit from it businesswise, but also personally it will help you achieve meaningful relationships and connect with people.

So how do you build a powerful social capital network? First, you have to initiate the relationship. We meet people from every part of our lives. From the bar where you go out to have a good time, from your workplace, from sitting next to a person on an airplane, the possibilities are endless. However, the approach to initiating this relationship is most crucial. I encourage people to take off their networking hat. The best approach is casual and nonbusiness related. If you approach a person who you think can contribute to your social capital with the sole purpose of getting something out of them, you will most likely not be able to achieve your purpose. Think about it from the other person’s perspective. If someone wants to know you just because they know you can give them something you want, how would you feel about that relationship?

Now that you have a friendly, casual approach, make sure to take your time. I call this part protecting the relationship. After the initial meeting or the introduction, take your time to get to know this person. Don’t jump into a business deal because you can. The longer you foster the relationship, the more beneficial the relationship will be for both you and the person involved. This is the time when you find out what it is that they need, and what’s going to help them grow. Maybe you do something for them first. Remember, reciprocity is an extremely powerful tool in relationships. Get to know them personally, as if you were making a new friend. Maybe that person will become a great friend later down the line, you never know.

A word of caution at this stage: do not easily make introductions to other people. Unfortunately, there are people who are extremely keen to freeload off of your relationships with other people. Have you ever had an instance where you introduced people to each other and it ended up taking away certain businesses that you had with them? This is not to say that you should never introduce your relationships to each other. If you expect to get compensated some way through the introduction, make sure that it is clear beforehand, as well as what it is for. This way, you are compensated but also protected from the introduction turning into something unexpected.

The rules of thumb to follow when it comes to introductions are as follows:

1. Business relationships require a great deal of time and money. Therefore, when you are the recipient of this introduction, you should always take that under consideration.

2. Friends introduced to another friend typically means you are helping your friend, and therefore no compensation should be expected.

3. When you receive requests to be introduced to a specific person, you should discuss the compensation up front. This way, you can make sure that you are both clear on the objective and the outcomes of the introduction.

Unless you’re a professional connector, don’t expect to be compensated every time you make an introduction. I’ve experienced the benefits of new introductions but also the loss of relationships because I made a connection and the person or organization did not perform. Some introductions may lead to transforming your business. For good Karma, recognize and if possible, reward the person that made the introduction, even if you don’t have something in writing. Just last week, I was able to send a thank you note and a small monetary compensation for an unexpected introduction from an associate. Understand that time and capital an individual spent in nurturing the relationship is crucial. That introduction could be vital in accelerating your business growth.

Occasionally, what you thought was going to be a business-only relationship may turn out to be a valuable friendship. If they do turn out to be a friend, make sure to be careful of doing business with them. Protect the friendship first before the business. If something goes wrong with the business deal and you don’t put friendship first, you will lose both the business and your friend. Take the high road. You don’t have to be the person who wins all the time. You also don’t know to whom this person might be connected to. Always do what you have said and promised to do. Over-promised and under-delivered business is common and fatal. However, under-promised and over-delivered business may open up new avenues.

Now you have created or augmented your toolbox of building a powerful social capital network. What are you waiting for? Go out and make those connections!

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