Throughout the years, I have found business is personal. Trust, chemistry, and authentic connections represent the foundation of ongoing interactions and completed transactions. Sound business relationships—like all of your associations—require time, patience, understanding, and dialogue.
Building a five-star business network begins with an introduction. Too often, I witness scores of young entrepreneurs—and quite a few with seasoning—who ruin gold-plated, relationship-building opportunities. Many attend networking events or business conferences for all the wrong reasons, turning them into social affairs to shoot the breeze, search for dates, munch on hors d’o euvres, or play with the latest gadget. You may have a blast but I guarantee such activities will not advance your business.
Instead, take advantage of the chance to transform these brief encounters into solid relationships that can ultimately provide support systems, sounding boards, or, in some cases, lifelines for your enterprise. Keep in mind that the endgame is not to wind up with a Rolodex chock-full of names that offer little, if any, professional or personal return.
Fully embrace the etiquette of long-term relationship-building. More times than I can count I’ve been a victim of what I call “drive-by networking” in which individuals track me down, greet me with a quick, incoherent pitch, and slap a business card into my palm. For these business card bandits, venue doesn’t seem to matter: I’ve been approached at graduations, funerals, and even public rest rooms. I’m sure many of you have become familiar with this type of assault. I applaud aggressive action but, by all means, display some decorum. Such missteps come with a cost. Not only will you turn off prospective business associates but you may do irreparable damage to your reputation.
To effectively build a business network, I offer the following rules. First, always look for an avenue to connect with another individual. I’ve developed some of my most enduring relationships on airplanes, golf courses, or even at an AAU basketball tournament for a team that I coach. These low-pressure, informal environments offer the time necessary to begin the process of sharing professional and personal experiences, exploring interests, discovering values, and establishing common ground. Regardless of whether you meet an entrepreneur who operates a one-person consulting firm or a CEO who runs a multimedia enterprise, engage in meaningful conversation instead of delivering a sales pitch.
The most critical element is the follow-up. After every Black Enterprise event or conference, I go through the same ritual of sifting through my block of business cards, separating pretenders from contenders. In most cases, I don’t have to worry about whether someone will become a drain on my time; I don’t hear from 95% of the people who give me their cards. My personal rule: Reconnect with