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Toni Morrison said it best: “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Too many believe it’s lonely at the top. I affirm it’s only lonely at the top if you take no one with you. In the ever so eloquent words of the great philosopher Jay-Z, “Over here we measure success by how many people successful next to you."

As you may know, August was National Black Business Month. It’s an annual time to intentionally buy Black, and honor where we’ve been while also charting a path forward. For Black women, we are the only racial or ethnic group with more business ownership than our male peers. Unfortunately, we also fail at much higher rates as well.

African American women-owned businesses make up 2.4 million in the U.S. However, the gap continues to widen between the average revenue for businesses owned by women of color and those owned by non-minority women. In 2012, the Federal Reserve surveyed our businesses and found the average annual sales for businesses owned by Black women was $27,752. That’s five times lower than all women-owned businesses, and two times lower than Hispanic women-owned businesses.

Research shows growing businesses as a woman of color presents very real challenges. Problems prevail without actionable solutions. With every problem, there’s always a choice. We can focus on what isn’t working, or create a plan to solve it. I firmly believe what you focus on expands. I decided to focus on the latter to help solve our unique issues using unique solutions. One such solution resulted in me closing deals totaling six figures from one conference.

Whether you’re looking for investors or collaborative growth partnerships it requires relationships. However, those type of connections aren’t established by simply networking. They’re proven through the development of mutually beneficial relationships.

"Life is a relationship game. In order to win at it, it’s necessary to build mutually beneficial relationships."

— Alechia Reese

People do business with people they know, like and trust. Many times, this same ideology (no matter how flawed), is also used when securing investors. From 2009–2017, women of color received less than 1% in investments. Historically, venture capital funds and investment firms invest in those that look like them. Since we’re thriving in our melanin, looking like those who lead many of the funds and firms likely isn’t going to happen. However, building relationships with all people from the CEO to future collaborative partners is for everyone. Once established, relationships can take your business from struggling to tread water to multi-million dollar valuations.

Let’s be honest though, networking sucks! And traditional networking simply doesn’t work. Going from networking to building relationships is the grey area many people have a difficult time working through. How many times have you attended an event, passed out all your business cards and got nothing from it? In addition, the pressure, stress and drama of being “on” is frustrating.

I wrote The Relationship Game to simplify it for anyone looking to go beyond “networking.” My five-tool playbook provides the tools to strategically build game-changing business relationships. Its focus on the practical tips and tools required to build, grow and advance completely transforms traditional networking. The book is a step-by-step guide to building dynamic opportunities using the power of relationships.

The power of relationships took me from a suicidal domestic violence victim to thriver. My team and I have worked with top brands and leaders like Verizon, ABFE, Soledad O’Brien, Zendaya and so many others. I included the advice of over 30 successful entrepreneurs and executives in the book as well. To share our stories and gems, we curated an eight-city national tour to lift others as we continue to climb. With partnerships with Google, Lyft, WeWork and BioBio, we’re igniting a transformative movement. And because I always like to leave dope and easily applicable tips, use these the next time you’re at an event.

These tips help lay the foundation of game-changing relationships. But remember: in order to truly leverage your connections, your product or service must deliver.

Here are five “DOs” of event networking relationship building:

1. Be clear on the value you bring to the table.

2. Do your research. Not every relationship or pitch makes sense. There’s a butter for every bread. In addition, there’s 7+ billion people on earth. Find the tribe, community and procurement directors that make sense for you. No sense in trying to put a square peg into a triangle. The only real way for it to fit is if you shrink yourself. Nobody has time for the truncated version of you.

3. Ask how you can be of service or assistance. This is how you think like an asset. Everyone has value. Use yours to build mutually beneficial relationships.

4. Where appropriate, ask thoughtful questions each time you’re given an opportunity to do so.

5. Use ScanTacts or a similar app as your digital business card to quickly connect.

You can discover the rest of the tips, plays, and groundbreaking strategies at RelationshipGameTour.com.

“If I move in silence, only I win. If I teach you the game, we win.”

— Monique Rodriguez, Mielle Organic