The 5 Friends You Need to Make at Work

Startups are nuts. You know that. But what you may not know is that the key to your success in an innovative company—as in life—is making friends. The same way that befriending people who are different from you enriches your personal life by exposing you to new perspectives and experiences, your colleagues and connections at work can expose you to skill-sets and tools that will enrich your entire career. From tips on time management and advice on career trajectories to building and maintaining a killer personal brand, internal networking is just as, if not more important than developing relationships outside of your office. Here are the five relationships you should build and nurture at work to make your career the best it can be.[bctt tweet="Your colleagues + connections can broaden your horizons + enrich your career, says @mslauriewrites"]

The Founder:

In traditional office environments, it may be difficult to befriend the founder of the company. They’re so isolated while running the company that how you see day-to-day operations seldom reflects or matches up with their understanding of the company they created. Besides, with nigh infinite layers of bureaucracy between them and you, much less breaking through all that formality to talk about anything other than work, getting meaningful advice from a corporate founder is daunting.

Startups do not work that way.

A startup founder has much more flexibility in both their availability and access—and they are your biggest guiding lights: “The founder is nearly always the embodiment of the purpose behind the brand,” shares Laurie Davis, founder of the online dating concierge service eFlirt:

Understanding the vision for the company and where it is headed from the person who created it is priceless, not only so that you can thrive as part of the organization, but to set you up for future advancement both internally and externally.

[bctt tweet="Understanding a brand's vision + goals from the founder's POV is priceless, says @eflirtexpert"]

Befriending someone that high up the proverbial food chain gives you an opportunity to observe—and learn—how they think. These people are serious achievers, and any achiever worth their salt wants everyone around them to rise to their levels of achievement. That means that you can often get a great mentor by befriending them, even if you don’t ask. That happened to me at na2ure with Alex Wolf—even though I initially resisted an informal friendship. I thought I had to be super professional all the time to earn her respect, but when I noticed her interest in me outside of my job duties, I realized that she wanted me to be my best in everything. That was awesome. And it can happen for you, too, if you just reach out.

If you’re too intimidated to hit up the founder, Laurie offers a solution: “The second hire at a company is a great person to know because they...have an intimate understanding of where the company has been.” They were the first success under that founder, and that can be a great model for you, as Laurie says: “Learn what makes them so successful there and adopt the habits and traits that feel right for you, too.”[bctt tweet="Learn what's made previous hires successful + adopt the habits that feel right, says @eflirtexpert"]

The Admin:

Most of us have suffered through low-level admin jobs at an office, and while you may have felt like the lowest person on the totem pole in that role, that’s not the case at a startup. Remember: startups can’t afford to keep middling performers so the person doing administrative tasks, regardless of their title (assistant, admin, office manager, etc) is usually the clutch. Joan Pelzer, President and Social Media Strategist at Joan Pelzer Media LLC, describes this person as: “the gatekeeper, [who] usually knows more than everyone else and can help you navigate the waters.” From picking up the boss’ birthday cake to proofreading content before it’s uploaded into a product, this person can help you get all manners of things done—and, teach you key people skills to do the same yourself.[bctt tweet="Get to know the co. 'gatekeeper,' who knows everyone + can help you navigate the biz -@JoanPelzerNYC"]

“I've seen first-hand how valuable these persons are,” adds T.J. Barber, Co-Editor-in-Chief of “Not only do they understand the ins and outs of a company, but they often can tell you how to approach an individual to get the 'yes' you need to move forward versus the standard 'no' that many will get.” Be nice to them. You might even want to “get to know [them] first,” according to T.J. These people have killer relationship-building skills, and that is something that will help you in every aspect of your life.[bctt tweet="Mirror your company admin to learn killer relationship-building skills, says @mslauriewrites"]

The Project Manager:

As a project manager, I spend most of my time figuring out how to make teams work smarter, not harder, to achieve their goals. While the end goal of that work is efficiency and maximization of resources, I learn an awful lot about productivity and personal achievement in the process. From time management strategies and organizing to do lists, to nerding-out over which kind of chart works best for any given situation (Excel? Flowchart? Gantt chart? Venn diagram? Ask!), project managers know how to get work done. They also know how to identify personal productivity processes and stick to them, which will help you conquer everything you could possibly ever want to achieve in life. Ask them things![bctt tweet="Project managers are experts with time management. Ask for tips, says @mslauriewrites "]

Project managers are also some of the most knowledgeable members of a startup because they’re responsible for moving all aspects of the business forward. If you can’t get to the founder, the project manager can usually give you a great top-down view of the organization to help you focus your workload when things get nutty. You just may have to listen to a lecture about Gantt charts over coffee to get it (seriously: ASK ME!).  [bctt tweet="Project managers can give you a great top-down view of an org, says @mslauriewrites"]

The Social Media Person:

Clueless on how to build a personal brand? These people aren’t. The social media person, be they social media managers, community managers, or some combination of those job functions are responsible for creating, maximizing, and executing social media strategies. It is their job to get their companies noticed on the internet by creating and sharing killer content through engaging people. In this digital day and age, engaging people online with meaningful content is a necessary life skill. T. J. puts it this way:

Endearing myself to a creative director or someone that falls into [strategic content creation] provides me the opportunity to learn more about the relational aspects of projects... Learning how to do this is viable to anyone whose ultimate goal is get another individual to do something, such as jump on board your brand ship.

Even if you think you know social, befriend this person—and prepare to be surprised by how much you learn about people’s behavior in the digital age.

The UPS Person:

Whether or not you ship products, these people are crucial, according to Beth Weinstein, founder of NYC-made running/fitness brand OnlyAtoms:  

Always, always make friends with the UPS/USPS/FedEx guys first. When you're friendly with them, get to know their names, their hobbies, and about their families, they'll pull miracles for you and can literally save your business.

[bctt tweet="Great surprises can come from unexpected places. Never underestimate ppl's value- @bethweinstein"]

Remember: they work hard at what they do. Plus, reps tend to move around from company to company, and building relationships with them can net you all sorts of benefits, as Beth highlights: “Call them up and ask for advice. Ask for contacts. Ask them to reduce rates, get better shipping, or even streamline a process for you.” These folks see the potential of startups to become long-term customers, so they’re invested in you. Take the initiative to talk to them and they’ll help you deliver on your projects like a superstar.

Of course, the very best friend you could make at a startup isn’t any of these wonderful folks: “It’s you!” encourages Marc Van Valen, Co-Founder and CEO of Digital Cloud Designs. “You motivate you.” Regardless of where you find yourself, or where you end up, if you don’t motivate yourself to be your best, you’ll never get where you want to go. Just remember that the secret to success isn’t doing it on your own; it’s working with, and befriending, as many people as possible. Especially you.

Photo credit: qiaomeng via Flickr cc