Beyond The Business Card

How to turn business cards into meaningfulpartnerships, alliances, or mentorships

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

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