For many, the act of networking easy: You go to an event, exchange business cards, make the connection. Yet, oftentimes, networking contacts go cold. The most common explanation for many entrepreneurs is that their day is consumed by running their businesses with little time for anything else. However, networking is a critical component of business growth, and letting valid contacts go fallow is a definite don’t.
Here are five nuts-and-bolts tips on building a professional relationship that even the busiest executive can incorporate into his or her schedule:
- Prioritize. Don’t spread yourself thin-it really is quality over quantity. Target the top 10-20 people with whom you want to cultivate a professional relationship. This pinpoint focus will maximize your available time and effort.
- Social media. When you meet a contact and the conversation goes well, ask if you can connect on LinkedIn. Liking or commenting on the person’s posts is a great way to remain in touch. You can also track their activities and take appropriate action as called for (ie, offering congratulations on a promotion or sharing one of their posts or blogs with your network-a surefire way to gain their attention and appreciation). Another tactic is including targets in a #FF tweet (which are extremely popular).
- Invitations. I was recently a guest speaker at a high-profile venue and invited several networking contacts to attend – at my expense. Yes, it was an investment, but the engagement underscored my professional reputation and industry expertise. It doesn’t have to be a speaking engagement. Consider inviting contacts to a Chamber event that you are leading, sponsoring or even just attending as a guest. Whatever it is, it will help to strengthen your connection.
- Something nice. Sallie Krawcheck, the chair of Ellevate Network, a professional women’s networking organization to which I belong, says she tries to do something “nice” at least once a week for her networking contacts.* That niceness doesn’t have to be huge – it can as simple as forwarding an article. I do this on a regular basis with my networking circle (clients, too!). We are bombarded with information and no one can realistically read every publication. And even if they have already seen it, they will appreciate the fact you thought to share the information. *If you can’t do something weekly, aim for twice a month. Whatever your timeframe is, remember to be consistent in your outreach. Make it a reoccurring date on your e-calendar and set up a two day reminder so you don’t have to rush around, last minute, thinking of what to do or send.
- Ask. Networking is not solely about getting: it’s about giving as well. So, ask your targets if there’s anything you can do for them. Even if they say “no,” they will welcome the gesture. And if they say “yes,” it’s another opportunity to grow the relationship.
I hope you find these suggestions of value. I have used all of them with great success and my clients have benefited as well by following them. Let me know if they work for you!