Building business relationships has certainly changed in recent years. The “winner” at a networking event used to be the person who went home with the most business cards. The cards piled up in a desk drawer only to be thrown away months and even years later, with little to show for the time spent networking. Today, you don’t even have to go to an event to network, but the contacts still pile up.
Of course, successful networking has always been about building relationships, and the idea of taking time to nurture the contacts made has finally taken center stage in the mainstream. Perhaps paradoxically, the faster the business world moves, the slower networking should take. Trust takes time to build, and with so many options available in the marketplace these days, trust is a critical factor in business success.
Often, people say they’re too busy to follow up and, before they know it, months have gone by and the relationship is slipping away.
I know I’m guilty of this myself. I’m sitting on more than a thousand connections on LinkedIn. I’ve come to realize that this is simply an electronic version of the old game of networking: little strategy, little interaction, little understanding of what they may need and how I can help them, and little relationship.
In essence, I just have a stack of electronic business cards. Instead of taking up space in my desk drawer, they’re sitting dormant in a virtual world, out of sight and out of mind.
You may be in the same situation on LinkedIn, on Facebook, with your email addresses, and with whatever other piles of contacts you have.
So what can you do to enhance your relationships?
1. Email. Go through your email address book and choose ten people with whom you really should be staying in contact.This is better than texting, because you can get a more detailed response, which sets the stage for a deeper connection and an actual conversation.
To maintain a well-established relationship, reach out to someone with a very brief email (1-2 sentences) to say you’ve been thinking about them and it would be great to catch up. I’ve found this to be a great bridge between meetings or phone calls when I’m too busy to focus on a detailed conversation, but I want to let them know I haven’t forgotten about them.
You can maintain relationships for many years like this and when it’s time to work together, the connection is still there. “Hi, Janice. It’s been some time since we last spoke and I’ve been thinking about you. Let’s schedule a phone call to catch up. Regards, Pete.”
This is actually how my wife and I got together. We were friends for several years, but some time had lagged since last we spoke. One day, I sent her a quick email—we reconnected and clicked like never before. Building relationships can lead to amazing things!
2. Telephone. Pick up the phone and call. Pick a time of the day when your energy may be flagging and you don’t have the bandwidth to focus on detailed documents or make important decisions. If you work a regular 8-5 job, you may find this to be between 4:00 and 5:00. Instead of wasting the last hour of the day, you’re building bridges to potential opportunities.
3. LinkedIn. Go through your LinkedIn contacts and understand why they’re there in the first place. Have you ever reached out to them? Do they even know who you are? Like any relationship, the person you speak to on LinkedIn may not have a need for your business offerings, but they know a lot of other people. They can’t refer you unless they know who you are and they can’t know who you are until you communicate with them. Your LinkedIn profile will get you only so far.
4. Facebook. It’s possible to maintain business relationships on Facebook, but it’s a less professional environment than LinkedIn. Decide what your goal is for being on Facebook and if it doesn’t make sense for your purposes, get off. If it does make sense, go through your list of fans or friends and determine which ones you need to reach out to. People love nothing more than getting an unexpected note from someone they like.
Every week, choose ten people you want to connect with through email, telephone, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Start a conversation. When you better understand what they’re interests and needs are, you can follow up with an article, video, or some other information that’s appropriate for them, further strengthening the relationship.