If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you already know how important networking is to the life of your business. But it’s not just about creating relationships with key individuals, other businesses, customers, and vendors. Your ability to foster and maintain these relationships is what will set you up for the growth and long-term success you crave. So what should you be doing after the initial conversation, elevator speech, business card swap and handshake?
Keep In Touch (Even When You Don’t Need Anything)
It’s easy to connect with someone on LinkedIn without even blinking and go on about your life. But then one day, you urgently need a contact at a particular company, remember you “know” someone there, and go digging through your connections online so you can rustle up a quick and insincere “remember me?” note. If your contact does remember you, the odds that person will jump up to help you are slim to none. Why? Because you didn’t nurture the relationship.
It’s important to stay connected to people even when they don’t appear to have anything to offer you, and when they aren’t really of any immediate use to you. After the initial meeting, be the one to follow up and give more detailed contact information (“If you ever need limo service for your events, feel free to give me call me at my direct line below.”) and check in every once in a while, tailoring your messages to your new contact’s industry or interests. A few extra minutes here and there will make a world of difference when there actually is something that person could do to help you.
Give and Expect Nothing In Return
Learn to give for the sake of giving. As an entrepreneur with a growing business, you may meet someone for the first time, whether it be at a structured networking event or a more informal, unplanned encounter, and think, “This person is successful and well-connected and would be great for my network. I’m gonna get ‘em in my contacts list!” While this is a great auto-response, it indicates one thing: you’re thinking only of yourself.
Instead of fantasizing about what that person can do for you, take a moment and think of some small things you can do for them. For example, send an e-mail to congratulate a new contact on their promotion or pass along an article on some industry news or a professional interest you both share. A dash of genuine interest goes a mighty long way.
Understand How Your Vendors Operate
This one involves having an idea of how and where you fit into your vendors’ businesses, and doing your part to not clog up the machine. It can be something as simple as remembering the copy center’s busy season is coming up, and sending your print order in a couple weeks in advance rather than at the last minute. A little bit of planning on your part could not only keep your project out of the “rush” pile and your name off of the “nuisance” list, it will show your vendors they are dealing with a living, breathing human being. This brings me to my next point…
Be An Actual Person
You read that correctly. People want to work with people they like, respect, and trust. So be a professional who is also a personable, approachable human being. It’s OK to let your interests (and maybe a little of your humor) show through, and it’s OK if your conversations with customers touch on things that aren’t 100% related to your business or industry.
Engage your contacts by asking questions and getting to know the reasoning behind their needs. Your business is a hugely important part of who you are, but you can still let others see the side of you that’s mildly obsessed with your dog Porkchop, and the person who would vacation in Rio de Janeiro if you could ever actually take a vacation, and the fact you’re still, well, you.
Networking can’t be all about what your connections (and their connections) can do for you. Pull yourself back into the equation and make it about adding mutual value to the relationship. And if not being “on” all the time has you feeling like you’re slacking off, just remind yourself the little things you do now could set you and your business apart—and build you both up—for a very successful future.
What do you do to get and keep your business relationships up and running?
About the Author:
Christina Heath earned her bachelor's degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. She is a contributor to ChamberofCommerce.com. Christina has led marketing, public relations and recruitment efforts locally and internationally, and is driven by connecting people to their success.