Beyond the business card: how to turn business cards into meaningful partnerships, alliances, or mentorships

Beyond the business card: how to turn business cards into meaningful partnerships, alliances, or mentorships – Making Connections

Lee Anna Jackson

It takes a great deal more than attending events to be successful at networking. Your successes will depend on your efforts, which extend beyond the initial meeting and collection of cards.

Often Feeling overwhelmed by the number of names, most people don’t spend enough time developing relationships with all the contacts they’ve stored away in their electronic address books. There are ways, however, to better organize your connections to develop the meaningful relationships that result from true networking.

Melissa Giovagnoli, coauthor of Networlding: Building Relationships and Opportunities for Success (Jossey-Bass; $25), suggests eliminating the contacts that have become obsolete over the years and begin by deepening connections with a manageable group of no more than 10 potential partners that have compatible values. “Values are magnetic,” Giovagnoli explains. “It directly affects who you choose and who selects you.” Those dynamics make for a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Most people think of networking as finding a new job or securing new business. That’s putting the cart before the horse,” states Brian Hilliard, coauthor of Networking Like A Pro! (Agito Consulting; $12.95). “You’re doing it because you genuinely like spending time with this person or at least talking to them every few months. Then when you need their help you can ask for it, just as you would with a friend, except at a professional level,” he adds.

Hilliard describes the process of building professional relationships as a continuum moving from unfamiliar territory to shared interests. “On the far right is your best friend,” he offers as an example. “What you are trying to do is move a [stranger] from the left side of that continuum over as close to the right side as possible, so that you’re developing a real relationship with that individual.” Here’s how you begin to set the structure:

Get to know them. Hilliard recommends not contacting anyone sooner than two days after initially meeting them to curtail any impressions of being overly anxious. He also suggests entrepreneurs spend an hour preparing for a first sales call to a new contact by gathering information using resources such as the Internet, annual reports, and, in the case of larger companies, their PR representatives. You should research their company’s performance over the past few years, their positioning for the upcoming year, and names of the top executives. Also review articles published over the past year related to the company’s successes, changes, or development plans. Fifteen minutes of your preparation time should be spent structuring questions and points for conversation.

Build up your inner circle. Developing a close group of business contacts can be a difficult task, as it requires commitment and most people don’t have the patience for the process. It is important, however, to know who the contacts are that you can rely on for professional and personal emergencies. This is your personal A-list.

Keep in touch. If a call to someone you consider a contact is perceived as coming out of left field, your networking skills need work. There are ways to make staying in touch fruitful and less of a chore.

* Send an article or other relevant information you think a contact might appreciate, accompanied with a brief note.

* Leave benefit driven voice mail messages, offering important information, resources, or breaking industry news. “A benefit-driven message will allow people to be more inclined to call you back in a timely fashion and makes the recipient more receptive to what you have to say,” says Hilliard. Keep your message brief.

Keep your word. Partnerships are not instantaneous. Don’t make the assumption that you’ll receive immediate benefits because you had a good encounter at an event, explains Melvin Murphy, author of the upcoming book It’s Who You Know! Creating Mentor-Based Alliances, Coalitions and Partnerships through Networking (PSI; $26.95). You have to work at establishing credibility. “Follow up and do the things that you say you’re going to do,” he adds.

Create the win-win from the onset. Although it takes time to set up a reciprocally beneficial alliance where both par ties regularly give and receive emotional support as well as information, Giovagnoli advises that the time to start working in that direction is from the beginning. “It becomes easier when you realize that you’re not coming to the relationship empty-handed. I would say the best behavior is to be curious about what matters to other people. Once you find things that matter to them, the next step is to help make those things happen,” she says.

Set goals. Create an overall objective. Determine who you would like to meet. Then develop a set of goals to further that mission. One of your goal criteria can be the number of face-to-face meetings you set up with your existing contacts during a month. Attending a new networking event per week or striving to meet three to five new business contacts at every networking event might be other goals. It’s important that you find out who of interest might be in attendance before you go to these events, so that you can do the necessary research to make the best impression when introduced.

Revisit old contacts. You may already have some old contacts that need revisiting. “You just never know when deepening an existing relationship is actually better than creating a new one,” Hilliard advises. To get yourself back on their radar screen, you can either send a postcard or an article, which doesn’t always have to be entirely business-related. “It can be an article of interest that paves the way for a follow-up phone call or e-mail down the road,” he says.

Don’t be intimidated by hierarchy. You may wonder what you have to offer someone 20 years your senior or professionally in advance of your position. “Your value comes in the form of character, substance, expertise, contacts you already have, services you can provide,” offers Murphy. “We tend to put CEOs and or, her senior-level professionals on a pedestal that they don’t put themselves on,” be explains. Begin by simply asking how you can provide help, Also keep in mind that providing someone with information they may not already have is always valuable. That includes everything from upcoming business events to great restaurants.

Avoid burn out. Networking can sometimes be a thankless, full-time job. Like any other aspect of your life, you have to manage it. Don’t continue to overextend yourself without reciprocation. Sometimes a connection just doesn’t work out. Accept it, and move on.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group