Meet. Follow-Up. Repeat.
Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither are our networks. In the same way that weight-loss goals aren’t met from one day of healthy eating or one strenuous workout doesn’t mean you’re in good shape. A valuable introduction is a great start, but it’s only a beginning. If you’re serious about extending your networks, I have one word for you—repetition. By increasing exposure over time, you work to build a relationship beyond the introduction.
In the book I wrote with VIPorbit Software co-founder Max J. Pucher, Who’s In Your Orbit?, we outline the four components of meaningful relationships: time, intensity, trust, and reciprocity.” For those who resolved to work on building more relationships, both business and personal, I recently wrote a post about “Networking in the New Year.” To build on that, I want to share from my experience from the past year.
I’ve branched out and begun attending a professional group. I was looking for an opportunity to sharpen my professional edge with a monthly learning opportunity while building new connections with new like-minded folks. This particular group highlights two professional or personal development books each month and then gives a thought-provoking synopsis meant to serve as a quick overview and a teaser to delve more deeply into relevant topics.
The first time I attended I was immediately intrigued. The format provided an excellent mixture of information and opportunities for socializing. I made several great new connections. Some led to follow-up opportunities. Others led to key introductions to other members, guests, and even authors. If I had intended to attend only once, I might have still achieved my objective of learning something and meeting a few people, but I would have left so much on the proverbial table.
Often the decision to try something new requires a bit of gumption. Who among us hasn’t walked into a meeting feeling a little bit like the new kid in school, holding a lunch tray in the cafeteria looking for an empty seat and a smiling face? When your purpose outweighs your trepidation, great things can happen. After all, most great things happen outside of your comfort zone.
Stepping into a new networking group can be intimidating, but it can also be self-affirming. Introducing yourself, your organization, and your purpose can all help you solidify what resonates with others and what leaves them scratching their head. Showing the initiative to try something new is something the other attendees or members can relate with as well. Everyone is new sometime.
If that first meeting you attend sets a foundation, repetition is what builds the house. Attending again and again says something about your purpose. It shows that you aren’t looking for a quick payoff but belonging to a group. Anyone can say that they are sincere. Only behavior over time can demonstrate it.
For a recent speech, I wore my signature lime green sport coat. During the meet-and-greet time and even the meal preceding my keynote, I had several people compliment my coat. I’m sure there are others who wondered about my color choice. Beyond the fact that I just really like it, it usually serves to illustrate one point: We are all constantly evaluating each other. What you wear one time may not make an impression, but how you interact, how you follow up, even how open you are to others definitely shows. And people are paying attention!
Not only does repetition develop trust over time, it also offers opportunities for reciprocity. I wholeheartedly assume the burden for building new or developing existing connections. If something is important, you make it happen. If not, you make an excuse. Rather than wait for a connection to reach out to me, I take the lead and reach out to others.
I’m not waiting around for something when it’s in my power to do it. That said, repetition reveals my dedication to the group overall. It’s often rewarded by opportunities for others to reciprocate my efforts. I might not be top-of-mind throughout the month, but my dedication to attend time after time puts me in their path. It’s like an in-person reminder to follow-up with me. Consider it built-in access to what they may otherwise forget or simply fail to do.
You may attend a yearly conference or a once-in-a-lifetime event that yields amazing results, but those are the exception and not the rule. However, consistent efforts produce long-lasting results. In fact, your future success is hiding in your daily routine. Networking events or development group meetings may not be everyday routine. However, over time, you’ll find success when you step outside of your comfort zone to show initiative, keep going to demonstrate your sincerity, and over time reveal your true dedication!
Networking for the New Year
Just like me, no matter what your profession or industry, you have competition. But all too often, we fall complacent in our day-to-day interactions, missing opportunities and losing momentum. For many of us, a new year means it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. For some, those resolutions may involve growing or strengthening your networks. Whether you’re just getting started, starting over, or simply looking to enhance an already stellar network, consider these tips to make the most of your relationship efforts.
Getting Started: Initiate, Interact, Invite
For the up-and-coming professional just starting to build their network, I have this advice: Take the initiative. If you make a meaningful new connection, be diligent about follow-through. Reach out and let them know your interaction was meaningful to you. Don’t hesitate to invite a second encounter—if you can tie in a common interest or preference from your first meeting, even better. You’ll demonstrate your professionalism in that you remembered them mentioning a penchant for French press coffee or single malt Scotch.
My only word of caution is to leave plenty of room for authentic reciprocation. Relationships are permission based and pursuing a professional relationship is much like a personal one—it’s possible to come on too strong. Be intentional, not pushy. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for the other person to reach out to you. When you’re starting out, it’s also important to ask for introductions from those with whom you’ve already built a good reputation.
Starting Again: Re-energize Existing Relationships
Whether you’ve made a career move, a physical one, or have just let things lull down, reactivating your networks can seem more daunting than it actually is. Organization makes information usable. Start with a scroll. Reading through names, or looking through profile pictures is a good starting point, but don’t stop there. Sort those contacts into groups (in my app, Vipor Plus, these are called Orbits) based on priority. For example, you can organize by High, Medium, and Low Priority, or numerically, such as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to reach out. Craft messages and determine how you’ll communicate based on the priority. Balance the importance of the desired results with the level of effort required to achieve them.
Sure, the people in your database may reach out to you, but when your success or failure is determined by the quality of your networks, why wait for a call that may never come? Relationships, after all, are investments. Some are penny stocks with little ventured, little gained. Others require significant time and attention to see really big payoffs.
Staying the Course: Decide. Commit. Succeed.
The first and last word in effective relationship management is diligence. Our long-term success lies in our every day routine. Why is this piece of “common sense” advice so uncommon? People promise, but don’t deliver. If you want to stand apart from your competition, the formula is simple. Do what you say you’ll do when you said you’d do it. I start my day with an overview with that very thing in mind. I can’t possibly remember every little email, call, or task, which is why I depend on a tool to keep those little details from slipping through the cracks of my memory.
Whether you use an app like Vipor Plus, spreadsheets, or sticky notes, put your system to work for you! Organize contacts by location, interest, etc. Communicate regularly and with a personal touch. Schedule activities with reminders, so you don’t miss deadlines. Remember, little things don’t mean a lot—they mean everything.
As the co-inventor of ACT! Contact Software, the product acknowledged as the catalyst for the CRM industry, I’m actually not a fan of traditional CRM. Why, you may be wondering? I think it’s too limited. Relationships don’t always fall into distinctly professional or personal categories. People may move from one classification to another, or even be in more than one at a time. The relationship statement for my company VIPorbit Software is this: People Matter. We believe in the infinite potential of closer relationships. If you haven’t resolved to be more diligent about building your network this year, I hope after reading this you will. Everybody networks. Make the most of every introduction and interaction with diligence and professionalism!