A business relationship is like any other – to last the distance it has to be based on mutual respect and benefit. We’re all guilty of getting caught up in the daily grind, prioritizing the ‘to do’ list over making time to nurture valuable relationships, the rock on which supportive networks are built . But failing to stay connected to your business network is costly – these people are your tribe who will support you (and you them) to build a successful career. This blog provides 5 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Business Network.
Why is a business network important for my career?
Have you ever noticed that geese fly in a “V” formation? When the lead goose tires of flying at the pointy end of the “V”, it drops back and another goose moves up to take the lead. The tired goose is carried by the updraft of the other geese. And the beautiful thing is, these geese are not driven by self-interest. By working collectively, each goose advances more easily. Like geese, people have a great capacity to support each other in their careers and life in general.
According to Ohio State University Professor, Tanya Menon, you are more likely to find work opportunities through acquaintances than your immediate friendship and family group.
“Most people don’t get their jobs through their close ties…their father, their mother, their significant other…they instead get jobs through their weak ties, people they’ve just met…the people you’ve just met today are your ticket to a whole new social world” said Ms Menon.
Let’s face it, careers are challenging. First, they span a large part of your life, probably 40 years or more. Secondly, the nature of work is constantly changing. You need to learn and adapt to stay employable. Thirdly, people are social animals and we are compelled to belong to tribes. This is why you need your business network – a team of champions who lead, inspire, encourage, supports and advocates for you. But don’t be a taker, instead be like the lead goose, who works their heart out to support the other geese, you to should focus on giving to others before asking for something in return.
How to build influence, credibility and trust
A business network isn’t something you can just tap into when you want something. To keep professional doors open, you need to build and maintain your social status, which is largely based around your influence, develop credibility and trust. And social status isn’t just for the bold and the beautiful, introverts can be highly influential too.
Every day, everybody needs to solve problems. Build your social influence by helping people at work and in your business network. If you’re an expert in your field, use your knowledge to answer questions, or introduce people or provide articles of interest. Lend your support to others and it will be returned when you need it.
Credibility is the key to keeping doors open. There is no one behaviour that defines credibility, it’s a compound made from authenticity, transparency, honesty, consistency and visibility. When you communicate with your colleagues and business network, have a clear purpose. Be honest and transparent. If you’re seeking an introduction, be upfront and tell them why. Make sure your relationship isn’t compromised in any way and show gratitude when you’re given help. Demonstrate these characteristics each time you interact with your business network and you’ll build a credible personal brand.
A trustworthy person is someone you can rely on, who delivers on promises, who keeps sensitive information confidential and acts credibly (see above). Being someone with integrity will make you a trusted member of any business community.
The importance of giving recognition
Existential recognition sounds like something out of a philosophy text book but plainly speaking it means noticing a person is alive and letting them know they’re important to you. Giving recognition authentically to people at work and in your network shows you care, is a great way to build rapport and a good excuse to get in touch.
You can save recognition for major milestones like birthdays or anniversaries, or be proactive and recognise people for minor achievements. “Hi Tom, I read your article on LinkedIn and thought it was really interesting. Well done.” A sentence as simple of this one will make you memorable for all the right reasons.
5 Ways to Stay Connected
There’s no right or wrong way to stay connected. There’s a time and place for each type of communication I have listed below. Think about your purpose: why are you interested in building a relationship with the person you are contacting? What is the best way to build the relationship that benefits both of you? You need to combine the reason why you are communicating with the right type of communication.
Social media is a quick and convenient way to communicate but it’s probably the least personal. Show your interest by reading other’s posts and articles and engage with them via a share, like or comment. This is a good way to build rapport with new contacts.
On Linkedin, ‘follow’ someone you’re interested as a soft way to show you’re interested in them and their ideas. It also gives you a chance to build up your understanding before you ask to connect.
However, following and commenting on posts and articles is a one-way form of communication – it doesn’t really allow you to start a conversation. To further your relationship, you need to make a connection.
When you make a new connection, I encourage you to write personal messages rather than click on pre-scripted button – it shows you’re genuinely interested. For example, you might say “I’ve been following your posts on <subject> and I’m interested to find out more. Would you like to connect?”. That way, your invitation doesn’t arrive unannounced and out of context.
Email is more personal than social media but again, you miss out on verbal and physical cues, which is a big component of communication. Sending an article of interest is one way you can connect and show you’re thinking about your contact. And of course, make your email personal and make sure you have permission to send an email to your contact, or you could be breaking the law. But before you send an email, think about your purpose – is your email genuinely helpful or are you just adding one more to the list?
As the old saying goes, it’s often about who you know rather than what you know. If you want to expand your business network, look for ways to help others succeed and provide introductions. Your generosity will be remembered and likely, reciprocated.
Another way to make stay-in-touch is to invite people from your network to attend events that will help their careers and provide introductions to your network in-person.
In the digital era, a phone call might seem old fashioned but it shows a personal touch. A well-timed phone call to congratulate your contact on a recent business win shows thoughtfulness. But while phone is more personal and allows for a two-way conversation, it is also more time-consuming so consider your timing and make it convenient for both of you.
Face-to-face is the most personal way to connect but also the most time consuming. It’s a great way to listen and building your mutual understanding of each other because you benefit from visual and emotional cues as well as the content of what the person is saying. This helps you to build a stronger connection. A coffee catch-up is ideal when you want to dive deeper but remember – don’t ask for a meeting only when you want something.
In summary, be generous and considerate with your network and they will always be happy to hear from you.
Building and maintaining a professional network is a key ingredient to making your career successful. But it’s also a skill many of us find challenging. I can help. Book a free 45-minute career breakthrough conversation and I’ll help you learn how to network.
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