Networking. Where do we start? We all hear how important it is to network, yet we don’t necessarily know how to go about it in a strategic way. Additionally, there are so many different types of relationships, so to understand your networking goals, it helps to know what type of relationships you are planning to build. In other words, what you are wanting to accomplish.
Review Your Network
Envision a scale of 1-10 with 10 for a close relationship complete with mutual value and caring. This could be a long-term mentor, friend, client, or business partner. And a 1 might be a LinkedIn connection of someone you’ve never met.
Here are a few examples of varying levels of relationships but the list could go on and on.
- Social media connections - may or may not have ever met before;
- Acquaintances - people we’ve met at some point in time and we know little about;
- Colleagues - people we work with in some capacity;
- Friends - relationships with mutual value and caring;
- Mentors - trusted advisory relationships with mutual value;
- Clients - do business together in some way;
- Client partners - trusted and credible business relationships with some sense of loyalty.
Take a moment and think about your closest professional relationships in your career. These might be managers, peers, direct reports, customers or clients, or community contacts. Think about that very first interaction you had with this person. What inspired that next connection? How did you get to the point where you are today?
In our leadership coaching practice, we describe a 4-step process to building more meaningful relationships. Consider the quality of relationship, as well as quantity. Although it is practical to have relationships at all levels, it’s the high-quality, strong relationships where we experience the most fulfillment in our personal and professional lives.
Become Top of Mind
To be intentional in your networking efforts, these 4-steps need to be “top of MIND” – Meet, Initiate, Nurture, and Develop.
The first step to building a network is to get out and meet people. If you are trying to grow and deepen your network, brainstorm all the different places you could meet new people and then go do it! These include things like alumni clubs, professional associations, community activities, conferences, and more.
The greatest tip I can share when you meet someone new is to be curious! Ask questions like, “What brought you to this event?” “What captured your interest in attending?” Engage in conversation by noticing something in common and making a connection. The second greatest tip I can provide is to smile! You want to be approachable and bring some energy to the conversation.
Take Action Example:
Identify an event you can attend in the near future with a goal of meeting two people you can follow-up with within 24 hours of the event.
With all strong relationships, the spark to build on that relationship stems from an interest in learning more about that person or a topic that surfaced in the conversation. This could be something the two individuals have in common, a topic that surfaced where the conversation needs to continue, or a myriad of other considerations. The idea is to find the key to initiate a follow-up interaction.
Sometimes the best follow-up is simply an appreciation note or a link to an article you think they might enjoy based on your initial conversation. I recommend being brief (100 words or less in an email) and putting their needs first. For example, don’t start every sentence with the word “I.” Research and prepare before you send as you might realize you have a mutual alma mater or that the company they work for announced a big acquisition that week.
You can ask if they’d like to meet for coffee or lunch, however, don’t rule out a phone conversation. A 10 minute phone call is easier to commit to than a 60 minute coffee. People like options.
Take Action Example:
List 10 people you haven’t talked to in the past year that you wished you would have stayed in better touch. Send an email or LinkedIn message with a short note.
Remember that if it’s YOUR interest to build on this relationship, it’s your job to nurture it along. Some of my best client relationships have stemmed from me reaching out periodically and staying in contact over very long periods of time.
I believe you can have a limitless number of contacts that remain at this level of relationship. You may check in annually, every six months, or as a reason presents itself. Trust your instinct to balance the level of contact. Be sure you don’t always ask for something as it’s really nice to get a note that doesn’t require a reply.
It’s important to remember things about these relationships you advance. If I tell you I have two kids, wouldn’t it be amazing to showcase your listening skills and interest in me by asking how they are doing by name the next time we meet or talk? Identify a place you can track this information, whether it’s a notecard, excel spreadsheet, journal, or database of sorts. If you typed it into your virtual contact database, it’s at your fingertips in the notes section of your devices. Come up with a way to capture the highlights of your conversation.
Take Action Example:
Contact someone you’ve recently met via email noting something you talked about or have a mutual interest in. Request a connection on LinkedIn with a customized note added and an opportunity to continue your conversation over coffee or 10-minute phone call.
There will be select relationships that simply blossom when you apply these steps. These individuals become our friends, long-term business partners, and mentors or mentees. There is a mutual caring and trust. My guess is whether you need help or advice, you’ll turn to these people. It takes an investment to get here and you must drive the relationship.
Share your good news with these people, ask for and provide referrals and references, seek their expertise and insight and share yours, and keep them in the loop on major events in the areas of life, business, and career. But most importantly, look for ways to grow the mutual value you both continue to bring to the relationship.
Take Action Example:
Reach out to someone you view as a mentor, advisor, sponsor, or close acquaintance and share an article, book, or current event that would interest them.
If you are interested in broadening and deepening your network relationships, I encourage you to keep this 4-step process top of MIND. Create an action plan that you can accomplish in the next 30 days!
Get the process started by identifying one or two things you can do, which allows you to meet new people. Or, set a goal to connect with people you’ve met in the past where the relationship has gone dormant.