Probably the biggest waste of time I see lawyers, accountants and consultants do with their business development, is network without a clear purpose or strategy. It isn’t helped by many firms asking their people to sub in for another person at the drop of a hat. Having a personal networking strategy that you can use to guide you with your networking activity is probably one of the biggest ways of saving business development time. In friday’s blog we looked at setting your networking goals, and thursday’s blog post we looked at the 5 stages in creating an effective networking strategy. In monday’s blog post, we looked at how to audit your current network and networking activities for effectiveness. In yesterday’s blog post, we looked at how to decide where to ‘find’ the right people to have in your network. In today’s blog post, we will look at how to build the right relationships in your network. Sadly, many professionals view point of networking is it is all about the process of ‘finding’ contacts. I am reminded of the great quote by, Rob Brown, a good friend of mine:
stop counting contacts, start counting conversations
If you pulled open your desk drawer, how many business cards would you see where you would think…. damn, I should have got back to them months ago? You see, that’s probably the biggest mistake professionals and small business owners make with their networking activities. They focus too much on finding contacts rather than deepening and maintaining the relationships which will help them achieve their networking goals. Once you have identified who you need to meet, the next stage is to categorise them. I use a simple, A, B C system in ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking’, where: A-lister: Someone who is likely to be able to help you achieve your networking goals in the short and medium term B-lister: Someone who is maybe able to help you achieve your networking goals in the medium and long term C-lister: Someone who is unlikely to be able to help you achieve your networking goals in the long term You may have a different classification, but the important thing is you have a classification for your contacts. In your networking strategy, you need to decide on what you will do as a result of meeting an A, B or C lister. As a starter for 10, this is what I suggest:
- You ask to connect with everyone on LinkedIn and Twitter (after all, circumstances can always change)
- All your A-listers you put in place a rolling 3 month relationship plan, which has diarised next steps
- You have a quick and easy way of staying in contact with your B-listers
Your aim with your relationship plan is to deepen the relationships which matter to you. Most people realise that not everyone is created equal in their network. In fact, the state of your relationship can be defined as one of 5 levels, as per my 5-level relationship level model: Here is a five level system, in which you can categorise the state of your relationship:
Level 1: “identify”
At this level, you have just become aware of this contact. Maybe, someone has mentioned them in conversation, perhaps you have seen a tweet of them. Or perhaps they are on an attendance list of an event you are attending.
Level 2: “connect”
At this point you have physically or virtually met a contact, and started a one or two way conversation, i.e. you have connected. For example, you may have talked to them at a face to face networking event, or exchanged some tweets or posts within an online forum.
Level 3: “engage”
At this point, you have taken a conscious decision to strengthen the relationship, and move beyond small talk. This means that you have taken the time to have a one to one meeting with them, whether in person, or by phone.
Level 4: “collaborate”
The trust has built within the relationship to the point where you have agreed to help each other, pass referrals, and potentially actively looking for ways to work together.
Level 5: “inner circle”
The relationship is now such that you have worked together, and regularly recommend each other’s services. There is a strong possibility that your relationship has moved from a purely professional relationship into a personal friendship.
Think about people in your network who you consider to be your A-listers or potential clients. Your relationship needs to be at least at level 3. At what level is the state of your relationship with them?
Who do you need to spend more time with to increase the level of trust and collaboration in the relationship? It’s all very well having relationship plans for the folks who matter to you. However, you need to actively implement these plans. My recommendation is that every month you sit down with all your relationship plans. Every month, check you have 3 months of the right level of contact planned and in your diary – now, extend your relationship plans by another month. If you have admin assistance available to you, use them to book in your planned meetings and events you will attend. In the next stage of your networking strategy, we are going to look at the ‘maintain’ part of your networking strategy.