One of the biggest assets for any business isn’t on its balance sheet—it’s the entrepreneur’s network. Networks become a valuable source of customer, service provider and even employee referrals and leads.
However, many people go straight from a networking event to expecting favors or other immediate results. Like good friendships, network relationships require care and attention. And like a fine wine, they take time to become robust.
After you network, use the following five recommendations to help you to build solid, mutually-beneficial and long-term network connections.
Take Notes Immediately
The back of a business card provides a blank slate where you can take the notes that you need to begin developing a personal relationship. When you first meet new contacts, they can reveal quite a bit about whom they are, what they need and how they can help you. As you jot down key points, make note of any ideas that you have for information that you can share to demonstrate your value to them. Keep track of this information to help you to know the best way to connect in the future.
Make First Contact Quickly
You do not have a relationship simply because you walk away with a handful of business cards. Networkers can forget each other’s names in just a few days, so your first meaningful contact happens when you pick up the phone or send an email.
Within a few days of your initial meetings, reach out to remind your new acquaintance who you are and why you are excited about the new relationship. This is not the time to start asking for favors, but it might be a great time to share a bit more about each other and confirm how your association can be mutually beneficial.
Feed Your Network
I love it when one of my contacts sends me a link to information about our common business interests or even hobbies. I don’t even mind some good natured trash-talking about the performance (or lack thereof) of my favorite sports team. Sending valuable and relevant information is a great way to show your commitment to building a good two-way relationship.
Of course, you need to strike a balance between maintaining regular contact and subjecting someone to information overload—I fondly refer to this as the fine line between being “persistent” and “annoying”. Only send information that applies specifically to your contact’s interests and concerns. Articles you send that solve their unique problems are like gold. Generic information or off-color jokes are like spam. If you can proactively offer valuable assistance to your contacts, they will want to do the same for you.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
A good network provides mutual assistance in times of need and feeling free to ask for help is an important part of the relationship. Personally, I see these requests as recognition of my accomplishments and expertise and I welcome the opportunity to help when I can, if it’s a small, clear and easy ask. So don’t be shy when you need to ask for help. Just make sure that you express how much you respect their skills and experience — and remind them of ways that you can help them in the future.
If the request is a significant one, also offer to pay them for their time to show that you value it and them.
Say Thank You — and Mean it
Whether your contacts generously share information or step in to resolve a specific issue, show your gratitude in a personal way. While a thank-you email might be nice, you can probably do something more meaningful. At one end of the spectrum, writing a personal recommendation on LinkedIn or even tweeting or re-tweeting a compliment that brings them more business might be some valuable ways to say thanks. But when someone brings you a lucrative new business contract or enhances your business in any significant way, an invitation out to lunch or even a gift can be an appropriate display of gratitude.
Making quality connections can be the difference between minor and major business success, so follow the steps above and lather-rinse-repeat as necessary.