Building strong networks and developing meaningful relationships are cornerstones to business success. Although it may be a cliche, "who you know" can be incredibly important for startups.
With the growth of social networking sites, it seems easier than ever to develop a sizable network of connections: Facebook friends, Twitter followers, your Google social circle, your LinkedIn connections. But having a large social media network means little if you do not maintain these connections. It is important continue to meet new people, cultivate existing relationships and to emphasize the quantity rather than the quality of your connections.
Last week, in a post on the blog Journalistics, Jeremy Porter wrote, "Too many people think networking is about collecting business cards - whether actual or virtual - in an effort to demonstrate how many people they 'know'." Porter listed tips on how to strengthen your network. Here are some things, based on some of his suggestions, to consider as you expand your network:
Establish goals: What are the types of people you want to build relationships with? For example, do you need to meet journalists or venture capitalists? Set goals and deadlines for reaching out to make some of these connections.
Keep score: If you set goals, track your progress. If you aren't meeting the people you want and/or building your network how you want, revise your strategy.
Make the most of face-to-face opportunities: Some events, such as conferences, are geared towards networking. Make an effort not only to attend these sorts of events but to maximize the networking opportunities there.
Have a good opener: As we noted with our tips for crafting your elevator pitch, you need a hook. When you introduce yourself, you should be able to answer the "What do you do?" question consistently and memorably.
Here's my card: It might seem obvious or even outdated, but do not undervalue the importance of the business card - whether electronic or paper. While social networking does make it easy to locate people, having a business card is an invitation for a follow-up.
Follow up: It's easy to toss business cards in a drawer where they're never to be seen again. Follow up a first meeting with an email or phone call within 48 hours. If you skip this step, you might as well toss the cards.
Stay in touch: Don't let your relationships die off. Keep in touch with people. Porter writes, "Some job hunters I met back in the late 90s are now directors at big brands. When you keep in touch with contacts over the long haul, you'll be surprised how many interesting connections you'll have down the road. You'll quickly become one of those people that knows somebody that 'does that' or "works there." Of course, you want to stay in touch with people so they'll remember you too. People forget who you are and what you do - you have to remind them regularly if you want to get value from your network."
Share: Give value to your participation in a network and make it so that people value your connection. If you come across interesting information, share it. If somebody asks for help, offer it. Porter says, "Don't miss the opportunity to pay it forward, you'll feel great and will find people often reciprocate."
Look in the mirror: Regular self-assessment is good. Ask yourself if you are both gaining from and contributing to your network. Reciprocity is important.
Build relationships when you don't need them: It's a mistake to only network when you need something (such as financing, a new job, a new team member). Be an active part of your network before you make your pitch to it.
Start with one new connection today: Meeting new people and building your network might be one of the most important investments - personally and professionally - you can make.