Lots of advice is shared about how to network, but what comes next? Maybe it’s a relationship with big business potential, or maybe it’s a personal connection — how do you keep it going? How do you develop relationships that hold the test of time, that are still there 1, 5, or even 10 years later?
Much like planting a seed, once you make that initial outreach and connection, your relationship needs ongoing nurturing to grow and thrive.
Relationships are built on consistency, reliability, relatability, and sincerity. Think back on the relationships that mean the most to you -- what are the foundations? The common themes probably include how well the other person listens, how they show they care, and how they are consistently showing up and checking in. They are not only calling when they need something. Good relationships also require attention beyond when something goes wrong or you need something from someone else.
We all get bogged down, distracted, things take our focus and all of the sudden, building a new relationship seems like work. But if you develop a few good habits, it will seem like second nature. Use these ten tips to improve your approach to relationship-building and create connections that last:
Business professionals are regularly bombarded by marketers, often to the point where they can see through a sales pitch thinly veiled as networking. Any sort of connection from someone who doesn’t know you personally may be immediately treated as an intrusion. That’s why it’s all the more important to leave business out of the conversation for the most part.
Good relationships make connections with people, not businesses. It’s about getting to know a person beyond their job title and company. Find out what makes them tick, get to know their hobbies, or ask about their family. The more you get to know a person on an authentic level, the more you have to connect over and the easier it becomes to avoid business-speak.
If you listen closely, you’ll pick up on fine details that will help you get to know your new connections: a pet’s name, the sports their kids play, or their favorite bourbon, for example. Take note of these details and bring them up in future conversations. This is a simple yet powerful way to show that you’re listening to them and care about what they have to say.
Also, knowing more about your connections may help you to be more proactive in adding value to the relationship. For example, if you have a connection that loves hockey and someone gives you hockey game tickets as a gift, you'll know who to invite. You can turn the hockey game into an opportunity to further bond on a deeper level.
Inauthenticity can quickly kill a new relationship. Even small details that don’t add up can make a person start to distrust you and question what you really want from the relationship.
The best approach to being authentic is simply to be yourself. Share about yourself and let the other person get to know you — because to know you is to like you! If you’re only asking about them, it can feel like an interrogation. When you’re sharing too, you can start to build mutual connections and familiarity. Let your real personality shine through so that communicating feels more natural.
No man is an island, which is why it’s important to build business relationships in the first place. One way to strengthen your connections is by putting your network in touch with others who might be able to provide value. For example, if they share that they’re struggling with a business problem, see who in your own network might be able to guide them in a better direction. You instantly become a valued partner to them, plus it gives them a clearer glimpse of your business character.
This can go beyond business, too. For example, if someone shares they are looking for the perfect gift for a friend, connect them with someone in your network (e.g., a personal trainer, artist, masseuse, etc.) who could offer a unique gift idea.
Remember the hockey game in #2? There’s another benefit here. Not only did you demonstrate you were listening when you invited them to see their favorite team place, but you also made a memory together.
Relationships are built on memories. It’s the associations they make every time your name pops up on their caller ID.
So, leave business talk on the table and go do something fun together. It could be dinner at a new restaurant, bowling, golfing, or a few drinks after work. This gives each of you a chance to see a different side of each other. Guards are down, so take this chance to bond on a new level.
How would you feel if your contacts only called you when they needed something? It’s unlikely you’d feel highly valued. That’s why every relationship should be approached as a two-way street.
Relationships should be give and take. Much like a bank account, you must first deposit something before you can withdraw. If your new connection isn’t asking you for anything, you can try offering something instead.
This sets a positive tone for the relationship and shows you’re interested in more than what you can get out of it. Nurture the relationship so that when you do reach out because you need a favor, it’s genuine.
Setting expectations of a new relationship can often leave you disappointed when the other person doesn’t measure up in the way you think they should. When this happens, it can cloud your opinion on the true value of the relationship. Instead, try to go into each relationship with no expectations. This allows you to get to know the real person, not who you think they should be. You might be surprised by just how much the relationship can grow when your opinions aren’t stifling it.
Part of building a relationship means letting others know you’re available to help. If they do call on you for advice or a favor, do your best to show up for them. This not only earns their trust but might also encourage them to return the favor.
That said, remember that good relationships are about quality, not quantity. Don’t make the mistake of trying to make too many new connections at once. You may find you can’t keep up with replying to messages and getting to know each person on a deeper level, which could make you come off as insincere.
Instead, focus on relationships that complement your culture and business rather than draining them. The best relationships help both parties to learn and grow.
There’s nothing more flattering to someone than showing you were listening to a small detail they mentioned to you. Being a good listener will help you pick up on these details. Once you catch a little tidbit they’ve dropped, make a note of it in your calendar or planner.
For instance, if someone says they are going to Prague next week, make a note in your calendar to email in 2 weeks and ask how the trip was. If they mention their birthday or another special occasion, mark it down so you can reach out.
When actions become habits, they feel more natural. Plus, you can be more consistent in your efforts. Start developing the habit of reaching out to two people every week that you haven’t spoken to in eight weeks. This will keep you in constant contact with your network and rotate through your connections.
Growing strong relationships doesn’t happen overnight. But with consistent effort and focus, creating genuine, long-lasting relationships may start to feel just as natural as introducing yourself.