Growing your business network can be difficult…and that's an understatement. The saying goes, the more the better. And certainly, to a degree this is true. However, in the real world, especially in a socially distanced world, this can be difficult. And once you do start to accumulate contacts and connections, how are you able to give them the time needed to nurture those relationships. You do have a busy schedule after all. This is why you need to first off recognize how many connections you can handle in terms of your business network.
One recent survey suggests that the maximum amount of relationships a person can cope with at any given time is 250. If you strive to acquire more relationships than this, you're going to find yourself likely pulled in too many directions. Think about trying to connect with not only business associates regularly, but friends, old classmates, and then of course family members. Ultimately, something will have to give and some of those relationships will suffer as a result. So it is far better when dealing with your business network especially, to keep it manageable.
In the context of the business world, it is often not advised to have overly close relationships. Yes, you want to foster some closeness but too much can complicate matters. You should also focus on diversifying your network. A variety of people from all walks of life and varying professions can lead to greater opportunities, not to mention give you fresher insights.
In terms of belonging to networks, you want to focus on more than one niche; that is to say, are there regional-based ones, school-related networks, of course, those that are work-oriented. And in this way, you could also stand at the border of a couple of groups. This could lend itself to bringing people together for different projects etc.
Don't prize quantity either. Quality in establishing a network is huge. Not to mention, you also don't necessarily have to gravitate toward those who have the same experience/interests as you. You can learn a lot from people from different backgrounds, different fields even. Perhaps their talents and knowledge are somehow complimentary to yours—this could prove very useful.
The Best Methods for Building a Great Network
- Again, focus on diversification: Different and unique perspectives can not only help you create a more robust network, but also grow it more quickly. Because they in turn reach out to their colleagues and friends and before you know it you have a true melting pot of insights and experiences. Think about your own goals and what you hope to get out of your network—this will help inform what people you gather around you.
- Be selective: That is to say, just because there are a bunch of business cards scattered on the table, doesn't mean you should pick them all up and start building your business network that way. This is a pretty clutter-filled way to go about it. Look for those who can legitimately offer you help and add something of value to what you are currently trying to cultivate.
- Create bridges: Building up a strong network requires time and energy. So start with that primary circle. It's all about a strategy to some degree. And in terms of those people who consequently have a strong network of their own, you may want to pay them a bit more attention. Even if they cannot help you, they probably can introduce you to someone who can.
- Don't rule out face-to-face interaction: Certainly, right now that is a bit easier said than done. Video meetings are great to this end; consider them the current version of a face to face engagement. And when you do have a video chat, make sure you're focused on the person; in other words, minimize distractions, definitely do not pick up your phone. Even twenty minutes here or there can go a long way toward solidifying a business connection.
- Seek to help others: People like to know that you are there, you have their back when the chips are down. And if you do help someone out, don't do it because you expect something back in return. Giving without motive, you endear yourself to the receiver of said help. It may not take long either. You'd be surprised at how little gestures can turn into something big.
- Don't let things get stagnant: The fastest way to let a business network go to waste is to let it remain stagnant. That is to say, if you fail to connect with your contacts regularly, if you ignore them for long periods, you are not optimizing those relationships. A simple call, drop them an email, even a quick text can make all the difference in the world as far as keeping that connection fresh. This is how you keep your network alive and kicking.
- Always appreciate people: If someone has taken time out of their day to help you, make a call for you, extend an introduction, show your appreciation. People like to be acknowledged for their gestures—it's human nature after all. Take it a step further and return the favor. This will show that you truly are grateful for their help and consequently, they will be inclined to offer it in the future.
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