4 Tips on How to Build a Network

Last week I had the opportunity to meet in person with someone who’s been ‘on my radar’ for some time. This individual is integral to a project that is the focus of my attention for the next two-and-a-half years. Together we will establish the parameters and working agreements vital for a successful collaboration. It’s an important professional connection and will be a valuable relationship, both immediate and long-term.

Our meeting proved to be an excellent start to what I would refer to as a defining relationship and it got me thinking about a recent conversation I had with an associate. We were debating the benefits of professional networking—the value-add and the downside of an ever-expanding circle of people needing one’s energy and attention. We came at the topic from very different viewpoints.  I had made a deliberate decision not long ago to streamline my current (and future) networks.

My rationale for the ‘culling’ was to ensure I could better support and nurture fewer contacts into the best professional relationships possible. I chose this approach because of the value I attribute to authentic interaction. I believe there is an art to building and maintaining genuine relationships—one that takes time, mutual care and a commitment to honesty from the outset.

Increasingly, our fast-paced work lives are becoming too big, too busy and too loud to give anyone a real chance to get to know someone organically—from a place of common interest or shared purpose. Too often the networking environment in which we operate creates a false urgency to hand a business card to a new connection instead of sparking real conversation.

For new business owners, the desire to expand their market and get the word out about their product or service is both pragmatic and essential for business growth. To be truly successful in building a personal and/or professional circle of influence, I encourage entrepreneurs to  think strategically about the desired outcome.

To what end are we conference networking, joining meet-up groups, or speed mentoring? Here are four simple guidelines to help filter your network potential:

  • Reach out only if you mean it, not as an auto-response or because you feel you ‘should’;
  • Choose the right channel of communication to match the kind of conversation you wish to spark—use Facebook, LinkedIn, email, the phone, or consider whether 1:1 in-person dialogue is better;
  • Follow-up within an appropriate timeframe and only when it makes sense to do so—don’t send frivolous content/materials in a rush to make the initial contact relevant; and
  • Remember that every person is unique—you don’t need a script when it comes to authentic relationship building.

– Alanna Keefe