Business networks can always be improved by nurturing relationships, seeking feedback and getting out and about
Your external business network is vital to your career and therefore its development matters.
Technology has changed the way most of us network; seeking out connections and referrals on social media has become commonplace. However, this can lead people to view simple connections as meaningful relationships.
The value of a business network depends on the amount of trust between people and it is important to be known as someone who contributes to relationships. When it comes to asking for referrals and recommendations, reliability and dependability are essential because someone’s reputation is at stake.
Ask yourself: “Why would someone refer to me or recommend me?” This introduces notions of trust, credibility and integrity, which are imperative in co-operative and collaborative partnerships.
The early stages of a referral may involve simply the spirit of reciprocity but there is a mutual interest in building a relationship in case more recommendations are required in future.
The return or reward does not have to equate to the initial gesture. A reward is whatever makes sense to the recipient, depending on the situation, the value of the exchange and the relationship history. At the very least, if you connect with someone on LinkedIn it makes sense to send them a personal follow-up.
Maintaining a blog and being active on social media outlets is all part of networking, but being noticed in your field of expertise is contingent on building trusted relationships and leveraging them to meet new prospects. For example, if you introduce a client to another firm because you are not best placed to help them, there is an opportunity to seek cross-referrals in the future.
Such relationships form the backbone of your business network and must be nurtured continually. These people experience your effectiveness and could be useful referees in future should you seek a new role.
The other key rule is to remember that your customers are your most important advocates. How aware are you of what they think of your performance? Ask if they would be willing to provide a testimonial about the difference you have made to their case.
At the very least, seek feedback and criticism about yourself from others. It is the most valuable market research you can do and the best career consultation.
Despite the ever-increasing use of technology, face-to-face meetings are not dead. Participating in industry meetings, conferences and tradeshows is a great way to nurture relationships with colleagues, network with other firms and impress new people. It is costly to attend meetings, however, so maximise the impact by setting up one-on-one meetings in advance and identifying other ways to increase your participation and visibility. Look for speaking opportunities, sponsor a coffee break or deliver an educational workshop.
At many networking events you may get the chance to give a presentation to the assembled group. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your expertise in your specialist area, reveal your positive, credible character, and pass on useful information – informing and educating rather than selling.
A professional and thought-provoking topic, delivered with an engaging style, will be remembered by savvy audience members. If being dependable deepens relationships, it is then all about impressing and standing out.
Peter Gwilliam is owner of Virtus Search