11 September 2015
[Editor's note: Please enjoy this follow-up blog from guest author Michael Thomas Sunnarborg on building business relationships.]
I wrote in my last blog post about the value of developing and maintaining healthy and balanced business relationships. This week, I will share some tips on how you can build new healthy business relationships while strengthening your existing ones.
After I recently returned from a national conference, I ran into a former colleague, Ryan. We chatted about our latest updates and I told him about the conference. “So how many business cards did you get this time?” he asked. “About 40,” I replied, “And I’ll have about 50-60 more from the fall conference.” Ryan rolled his eyes and chuckled. “That is so like you, Michael.” I nodded in agreement. Over the years, my friends and coworkers never understood how I could meet so many new people at events and conferences, but I did—because it’s part of who I am.
According to Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, I am a Connector—Gladwell’s category for those individuals who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. Making connections with people is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve had the opportunity to build an amazing and diverse global network of people over the years and I am still growing my networks all the time. I learned early on that the most important part of building business relationships is building your network, and then keeping it fresh.
It may sound rudimentary, but in order to build a solid trusted network, you can’t just do it all behind a computer screen—you need to get out and meet people. While networking may come naturally for some, it isn’t natural for others. Whether it’s visiting another country, attending a national conference, or participating in meetings outside of their organization, natural networkers are gregarious—they tend to introduce themselves, initiate conversations, and move into icebreakers or other “get-to-know-you” activities easily and seamlessly. In fact, they might be the one leading the charge!
For those for whom networking does not come naturally, connecting with others may be more of a challenge. These individuals usually wait to be introduced, are more comfortable having someone else initiate conversation, and may be slow to participate in larger group activities. Is there anything wrong with that? No. However, they may find that meeting new people can be difficult and stressful. Generally, more introverted networkers will find someone whom they already know—perhaps a Connector—and meet others through them. This creates a “buffer” of sorts—a liaison to help make the connection feel more natural and balanced.
Whether you’re a natural Connector or not, building new business relationships can provide both personal and professional benefits. From a personal perspective, new relationships allow you to share information, answer each other’s questions, and make new connections to support your personal growth and development. People in your network become the portals to knowledge, opportunity, and information that you might not find on your own. Business networking supports collaboration. Once you’ve established a business connection, you’ve set the foundation for sharing a multitude of resources ranging from best practices to collaborating on joint ventures and projects. Your business networks can be your most valuable resources.
Tips for Natural Networkers
- Easy does it. Keep a healthy balance of meeting new people while investing in your current relationships. Don’t just collect business cards for quantity—seek quality, substance, and transparency in your business relationships.
- Keep contact information current. This applies to both you and those in your network. Alert people when you change your contact information and be sure to keep your contacts current. Make it as easy for them to find you as it is for you to find them.
- Activate your network when you need it. Reach out to your network and let them support you when you need advice, resources, or referrals. People love to help others—it makes them feel useful. Think of your network as your own personal cheering section.
Tips for New Networkers
- Try attending more events. This will force you to meet new people. Make a point to meet at least three new people at every event you attend and avoid spending all your time with one person or letting someone dominate all of your attention. Mix it up!
- Exchange business cards or contact information. When you meet someone for the first time, be sure and trade contact details. Then, send a thank you note or email as soon as possible. This is not only a polite gesture, it establishes a more permanent way to contact each other in the future.
- Stay connected to your Connectors. The strongest networkers will remain a valuable resource for you as you build and expand your own personal network. Let them help you.
Tips for Keeping Your Networks Strong
- Think outside the network. Beyond those inside your network, ask to be introduced to more people outside of your network and seek common ground with your new connections. LinkedIn is a great resource for searching for new connections.
- Check in. Ping your top network connections on a regular basis. Don’t wait until you need them before you invest time and energy to keep your relationships fresh.
- Pay it forward. Let people in your network know that you are available to help them. When we share of our time and talents, everyone wins!
- Update and prioritize. Go through and update your network connections on a regular basis. Remember, not every one will always be a good fit for your network and that’s okay. As we change, so do our support needs.
I believe that we all have the power to create healthy and mutually beneficial business relationships with others. Once you start building your networks and keep them maintained, they can provide you with a solid personal and professional support throughout your entire career. Now get out there and start networking!
This is a guest blog by Michael Thomas Sunnarborg—professional speaker, best-selling author, and certified life transition coach who helps people find better balance and happiness in their lives. Michael currently resides in Minnesota and enjoys traveling to new destinations, having quality conversations over good coffee, and eating peanut butter—but not necessarily in that order. Learn more about Michael and follow his blog at: michaelsunnarborg.com