All successful businesses belong to a network – from the largest international chains to the local “mom and pop” stores – businesses live and die through their customers, their employees, and through word of mouth.
Of course, realizing this is true is the easy part. Actually managing to build a thriving network for your business is the challenge. While there’s no one definitive answer to “how can I successfully build my business network” we do have one piece of advice for you.
Don’t make contacts – build relationships!
What’s the difference? Many of us consider contacts to be people we occasionally, or even rarely think of. They’re friends of friends, a person we met at a party once, or some random FaceBook friend you’ve never actually met.
A relationship, however, is built for the long term. There are multiple points of contact that are established, tested, and then reaffirmed over months and years. If you have a relationship with someone, you not only know who that person is, you know that THEY KNOW the type of person you. It’s a system of mutual trust and cooperation.
Anyone can give out business cards at a Chamber of Commerce meeting or try to give elevator speeches to strangers, but those connections are often fleeting and limited. Casting a wide net can work at times, but if that’s all you’re doing, consider that there may be more slipping through that net then you’d like.So, can you work on building professional relationships? Here are four recommendations.
- Good Association Matters
You’ve probably heard the phrase “quality over quantity.” While it’s good to have lots of people you can connect with, you know that there’s always a few who are more dependable, more responsible, more passionate than others. Think about those people in your life and prioritize those high-value relationships. They’ll pay off more in the long run.
- Stay in contact
One-off discussions don’t leave lasting impressions, it takes constant contact to build relationships. It can be hard to stay in contact without seeming “pushy” especially if you don’t get together often. So, consider getting creative in how you reach out. Thanks to social media you know have options like sharing links to a blog or Instagram or even sending emails with your own electronic newsletter. It’ll take an effort to create content, but people will be more receptive if they feel they’re receiving something of value.
- Be yourself
All true relationships are built on trust. So, if you want to have lasting contacts that you can depend on then you have to be prepared to be open, to be honest, and to be real. People out there want to make connections, they want to have networks of their own, but are often afraid of putting themselves out there. If you put forth the effort to confide in people, it can leave you vulnerable to rejection, but it can also create some unbreakable bonds.
- Consider areas of shared interest
Finding new contacts that you can start building relationships with can be challenging. So, consider areas where you have shared an interest with others. These commonalities can be built open (over time!) to create new touch points, new points of reference, and new lasting relationships.
Consider shared commutes when traveling like on commuter trains or in airport lounges.
Visit shared communities like your church, temple, or neighborhood association.
Explore your shared passions, talk to others at the gym, while playing sports, or participating in volunteer opportunities.