July 20th 2009
In my last article I wrote about the importance of maintaining your resume at times when you don’t expect to need it and this article is related and about maintaining your business connections. Its related at least from the perspective that you don’t know when you will ever need to count on your business connections and that if you hope to get help from them at the time you need but have never made the effort to maintain them, then you won’t get very far. Connections in business are just as valuable as your resume and skills and we’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” Business connections are often a way to find new opportunities, new jobs and to get the support and help you need at times when it is desperately needed. You cannot get that if you don’t maintain your business connections first, so here are some tips how to do that in your career.
Build your Connections
Building your connections means that you make extra effort to meet people, get to know them and to build a relationship with them beyond just the connection itself. Unfortunately this is often a lot harder than it seems. The world of blogging and social media (for those of you that are familiar) seem like this is easy to do with friends, followers and every other type of connection and RSS feeds that are out there. This is where it SEEMS easy. These types of connections are very shallow and not really all that helpful for either party involved. What is needed is more effort to build the connection into a real relationship. This can definitely be done in these social media systems but it takes more effort than secretly following someone to have a valuable connection with them.
Build connections by communicating both ways, learning about each other and by offering your. Provide value to them and ensure that value is at a personal level. In the face to face business world this requires real relationships to develop and some interest on both parties to stay involved.
Another important thing with building connections is to no limit the connections you do build and develop. In the world of work a network of connections can easily lead or branch out in ways you would never of expected. A friend of your caretaker, the uncle of a hairstylist, an old school roommate’s new girlfriend, any of these people could add a value connection to your network which is exactly why you should never limit who you develop connections with. In fact, it is important that you purposefully diversify your business connections and make an effort to branch outside your direct work circles because of these amazing opportunities that do come about via people you would least expect it to.
Give First Without Expectations
The easiest way for you to ensure others want to stay in touch and connected with you is to offer to help them or provide value to them if they should ever need it. If you give first to the relationship more often than not you will end up having the same in return. You can’t expect anything in return though because if you want to true give value to others, you ought to do it so they get more out of the relationship than you do. At least they need to feel that way and be offered a chance for that. If you do this and give first to a relationship it is quite likely you can build a strong connection with that person and that connection will last.
Keep Track of Your Connections
Building a few connections is easy without any system or methods for tracking. However, you should be growing your known connections every month and so you will quickly find yourself needing to keep track of connections. There are many options here and tools available for tracking. You can use just an address book (paper or electronic) as long as it can add notes to each entry. You might also want to combine your address book with a calendar to help schedule some and remind you of certain connections. A customer relationship management (CRM) software is another excellent way to track your connections.
I find that one of the most important things with tracking connections is knowing when your last contact was and if there were any special discussions or actions that came about since or as a result of that last contact. A regularly scheduled phone message or quick note on email is a simple task that is easy to schedule in any calendar or CRM software.
Ideally, you then continue to contact people that you haven’t frequently contact and just let them know you were thinking about them and wanted to stay in touch and that they are welcome to ask or contact you if they need anything from you. Obviously you will not be able to fulfill any request but its the offer that counts the most. It’s that offer that carries a lot of weight in the relationship with a business connection.
Rely on your Connections
If and only if you have had your connections for some time and that you have given first your offer of help to them, will you ever be able to rely on your connections. Relationships need to work both ways and if you’ve made an effort to develop them, then you can much more easily rely on them. Ask your connections for help if you need it. Get them to help you find a new position or to offer assistance or advice in a role you are struggling in. Whatever the need is, if you’ve built your connections and put some time in yourself first, then you can always rely on them in your own time of need. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have business connections who support you and help you out when the time arises.
Obviously, there are some tips mentioned already about how to best build your business connections, here are those summarized with a few additional ideas. I’d love to see any comments of additional tips to build your connections at a deeper level than your friend count in Facebook. Please share your thoughts on this as well!
- Schedule time for weekly contact to your connects
- Use the phone or face to face whenever possible over electronic messaging, its more personal
- Offer yourself for help or advice when the chance arises with your connections
- Make at least one new connection per week
- Follow up with EVERY connection you have at least every 6 months, some more frequently
- Keep a diverse set of connections, it will expand the opportunities available