Having an extensive network of business contacts is a great asset. But a truly valuable network is about more than the sheer number of connections you make. You need to go beyond the superficial, to develop meaningful business relationships with people who you’ll be able to count on when you really need help.
As executive networker Michael Dulworth explains in The Connect Effect: Building Strong Personal, Professional, and Virtual Networks, effective networking entails much more than trading business cards and sending an occasional email. Dulworth, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Executive Networks, offers these suggestions to take your business relationships to the next level:
It’s not enough to stay in touch virtually: Communicating via phone or email is great for staying in touch when you’re busy, but don’t forget that maintaining and building real relationships requires a certain amount of face time every now and then. Schedule a coffee or lunch date and watch your friendship blossom.
Have real conversations: Always choose quality over quantity. Joanne Black, a networking expert featured in Dulworth’s book, suggests having no more than three or four substantive conversations at business meetings or other events offering networking opportunities. This will let you invest enough time and attention for a memorable interaction.
Find shared interests: Look for “a hook point,” some common ground that you and your contact can both speak about with passion, even if it isn’t business-related. You’ll be much more unforgettable if you spend 10 minutes trading stories about a shared interest—say, fly-fishing on the East Coast—than if you spent the same amount of time tooting your own horn.
Give back or give first: Think about how you can give without the expectation that you will receive something back. Doing this will not only feels good, but it creates a list of potentially influential or helpful people who will be more than happy to assist you should you ever need it.