Many of the best ways to get ahead seem uncool on the outside, so most people don’t even give them a try. Doing some of the items from my list may not look cool, but having the skills, knowledge, experience that comes from them, will help you go places.
You’ll probably notice that most of the ideas involve you getting out and connecting with people. By having a strong network and possesing good skills, you can do just about anything in life, and be happy at the same time.
1. Join a board
Boards run companies and organizations. When you hear someone is the President of a company, it means that they’re the head of the board, and the board sets out the objectives and future path for the company.
To start out, you’ll never get a seat on a multi-billion dollar board unless you had a lot of specialized knowledge or money. For everyone else, you’ll need to work your way up the ladder by starting out with positions on smaller boards.
Most not for profits and charities are constantly looking for board members to help out. In exchange for your time, you can learn how group decision making works, and also get a feel for some of the skills required if you want to take things further.
From my experience with coaching not for profit boards, I can tell you that taking on a role with a board is one of the best ways to learn about accountability and dealing with others.
2. Create a database of your contacts
In his book, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, Harvey Mackay talks about how he uses a list of 66 items to keep track of client information (he calls it the Mackay 66). This information includes their contact information, and in addition, he tracks items like university attended, family info, and outside interests. It’s like using notes, but in a more structured, consistent, and organized way.
The purpose of the information is to help you build stronger relationships with your clients. By actually taking an interest in their life beyond business, you can develop a deeper bond which might indirectly affect your business relationship. If you care about the people you deal with and take the time to show it, the success will come.
I recommend using a database, or one of the various online Contact Management Systems (CMS) to keep everything straight. The best reason for putting information into a database is that it’s searchable.
3. Ditch your old friends and get newer, better ones
I’m joking a bit here, but it’s true that the people we associate with on a daily basis partly determine where we get in life. It’s the people you associate with who motivate and drive you. If your friends aren’t challenging you to keep getting better, you’ll start to stagnate.
The goal is to hang out more with people who are going in the same direction as you. For instance, if you want to be in business, you might want to consider spending time shadowing others in the same line of work.
There needs to be a balance, between being comfortable with the people you know, and looking outside your circle of friends to help you grow. I wrote a post about this a while back. You can check it out for more info.
I can’t tell you how many great people donate their time. This is an opportunity to make a difference in your community, but also to meet other important people.
Volunteers are needed almost everywhere, so you can try out different opportunities, until you find something that works for you.
Avoid pitching people when you’re volunteering. There’s nothing worse that the person going around trying to make deals. Just get to know other people, and help out in the community. If you build enough good relationships, the deals will start to come.
Where do I start: You can try Rotary, Kiwanis, or Lions Clubs, just to name a few.
5. Send snail mail to thank people
If you see a hand addressed envelope with your name on it, what are the chances of you opening it? Pretty good, right? A short,hand written note, can be one of your best tools to keep in touch these days. It only takes five minutes too.
You can read my post on how easy it is to make thank you notes part of your day.
6. Develop good public speaking skills
You may have the best ideas in the world, but if you’re unable to communicate them effectively, it doesn’t matter.
By improving your public speaking, you not only get better at situations when there’s a big crowd, but also when you’re one on one.
The easiest way to get better at speaking is by joining a local Toastmasters club. Most cities have dozens of unique groups, so it’s crucial that you find the right one. Use the search function on the Toastmasters website and then pick a few clubs. Then, visit each one once or twice before making a decision.
If you’re not a good speaker, you can get better. If you’re already a great speaker, you can take things to the next level. There’s always something you can learn.
Other suggestions: Go to a Pecha Kucha night, read poetry somewhere, join an acting group, or try out an improv troupe. Keep experiencing new activities until you find one that keeps you engaged.
7. Study negotiation techniques
Learn how you can create win, win strategies. These days you need to make everyone feel good, or else they’ll start a war with you on the internet.
There’s a book I like called Getting to Yes that describes how to diffuse confrontation and negotiate strategies which work for everyone involved. Obviously, this isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it will take some practice, but the best time to start is now.
I took an entire course based on this book in university. At the time, I didn’t see the importance, but now that I have a lot of business experience, I can appreciate how making everyone feel like a winner is invaluable.
8. Ask for help
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you have questions and concerns, there’s probably someone out there who’s dealt with those same issues in the past.
It’s best to look for help from someone outside of your immediate family and friends. That way you can get an objective opinion about where you are and what your roadblocks are. Be sure to listen. It may sting when you hear that someone you thought was a strength is actually holding you back.
The two typical solutions are to either find a mentor or coach. They’re similar in that they both want you to succeed, but differ in their approaches. Here’s the difference:
Mentor – Advises you about the best course of action. They’ll tell you what to do.
Coach – Will ask you questions and encourage you to develop the solution.
Do you have an uncool way to be successful? Leave a comment or drop me a line. I’d love to hear it.