How strong are your connections? How close are the people in your network? Would they recognize your name? Would they remember you if you called them? Would they help you if you needed it?
Building strong relationships is essential to securing your future, building your career and providing you with true stability. We live in an era where no job is guaranteed and where you must look out for yourself first. It is essential that you make time for growing strategic professional relationships. Staying “in front” of your network and providing consistent value will ensure that your network works for you when you need it to.
Here are 7 tips to help you grow and strengthen your professional relationships:
1) Provide Valuable Articles
People are busy and keeping up with all the changes in an industry can be exhausting. What information and resources could you provide to people in your network? What industry news do you read that others may find useful? As you are reading and keeping up with your industry or industries of interest to you, share the best information with your network(s). Sharing can be done in many ways from posting the article link to your LinkedIn page and hoping that people see it (certainly worthwhile but not very personal) to tagging individuals in a conversation on social media about the link to sending emails or private messages on LinkedIn (not more than one email/private message per month is advised).
I have found that while I use social media to share a lot of great content to those who may see what I share in their feeds and decide to read it, is a good method, my favorite method is still the personalization of sending a link to a person or group of people in a specific industry that may find it valuable. It’s important that the article(s) you share this way are timely and provide real value. Here is how I do this: I organize my contacts into groups such as marketing, nonprofits, fundraising, etc. I pick out relevant articles to send to each group. I send no more than 1 article per month to each group. I also blind cc the email list to protect privacy or send one email or message at a time. The goal is always to provide value. Make sure to create a good subject line. I usually say something like “here’s an article I thought you might be interested in” or put the title of the article.
2) Share Networking Opportunities
This can be done similar to number 1 above. You can share opportunities with your general network or reaching people one on one through social media messaging and/or emailing individuals. Sharing networking opportunities and workshops that you think people in your contact list may have interest in. Make sure you send opportunities that fit the contact. If you keep your contacts in groups like I mentioned above this becomes easy to do. People appreciate knowing what is going on, even if they do not attend the event. I suggest that you send only 1 or 2 opportunities per month. You do not want your contacts to receive too much email from you.
3) Introduce People To Others Who Should Know Them
Introduce people who may have value in knowing one another. A good example is connecting people who operate in the same industry or complimentary industries. For example, I have several contacts that work in different areas of green energy. I have made an effort to connect these people because they may be able to help one another. I also often try to introduce people to recruiters when they may be a good fit. Recruiters are always looking to build their network of qualified candidates and making those introductions can be valuable for everyone involved. I am a firm believer that changing the world is often about connecting the right people to one another and I have seen this happen more than a few times through introductions I make. How can you change the world by connecting people in your network to one another? Start working on this today and watch the change happen. Also watch as people remember you and help connect you with others because of what you have done to connect the dots for them. What you put out there will comeback many times over. It is the law of attraction in work!
Email is a great way to make an introduction, you can leave it to the people you are connecting to set up a meeting if they see value in a face to face meeting. If you have connections that both use social media channels like LinkedIn or Facebook you can make these introductions in their private messaging platforms as well. I personally still like to use email for this purpose, but this is a personal preference. Whatever method easily brings people together is a great method to use!
4) Offer Referrals When The Opportunity Arises
Create a network of service providers that you trust and who provide excellent service. When someone in your network has a need, connect him or her to your service provider. The service provider will be thankful and so will your contact. Examples are lawyers, printing, design work, web development, professional organizers, house painters, plumbers and the list goes on and on and on.
I only recommend people that I trust, who have provided amazing service, and who I have strong relationships with. A good example is my printer, Pete Semington of Dunn and Semington Printing in Minneapolis. Now first of all how many of you can claim you have our own printer? Once you meet Pete Semington and work with him you will call him “your printer”, I promise!
Pete is by far one of the best printers in town, his prices cannot be beat and the quality of work is excellent. On top of that his customer service is top notch. He is one of my most valuable contacts because almost everyone needs a good printer. And I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t want a good deal. I send people to Pete all the time. In return, Pete offers me excellent service and is always willing to go the extra mile when I need something. It is a win win-win relationship. Pete has also given me plenty of referrals back to my business which is greatly appreciated.
Spend time building these relationships and share them with others!
5) Remember To Say Thank You
Saying thank you is not optional. If someone takes time to meet with you, say thank you. If someone takes time to send you an article, connect someone with you, write you a reference or does anything else for you say thank you. It is so easy, and absolutely a necessity. In today’s world, where messages go back and forth quickly and emails get buried in a blink, we can forget to say thank you. It’s true you are a busy person, we all are busy, but that does not excuse taking time to thank someone when they do something nice for you. That includes when they send you a simple link to an article that they think you will enjoy and it includes thanking them regardless of if the link was sent in email, text message, on Twitter or anywhere else. Thank people right away and it is done. Easy and it makes a difference.
If you really want to make an impression send a handwritten thank you note. Think of how you feel when you get a handwritten note. It is PRICELESS! And a great way to really make your mark and be remembered by someone. I try to write handwritten thank you notes every Friday to all the people I have met or who have done something kind for me during the previous week. Setting a specific scheduled time once per week will help you make this a habit.
6) Offer To Help People When You Can
This is such a simple concept and something that we can forget to do just because we are not thinking about how we can help others or are so busy in our own lives that we simply don’t think to help out others. But taking a few minutes to offer resources or guidance to someone is a great way to connect. And with social media it is easy to see what people are doing, thinking and in need of. If you can help, why not offer?
I often have people say to me, “if there is anything I can help you with just let me know.” That is a nice general way to offer help, but whenever possible offer something specific. Really listen when a person talks about what they are doing, if you see a way you can help make sure you offer. I am not suggesting you offer to give all your services away for free or offer time-consuming things. You can offer a resource like example contracts, a book title, the name of someone who can be of service to them, a website, etc. The more you help, the stronger your relationship will grow.
7) Use Social Media And Social Networking Whenever Possible
Social Networking is definitely a great way to stay connected with people professionally. It is a way to stay in front of people and to connect. But remember it is only one tool and it may not be as personal as an email, a phone call or a hand-written note. Many people today do most or all of their networking through social media. Although I love social media, it is important that you have a plan on how you use it and that you bridge the really important relationships to other forms of connecting. My advice is not to put all your eggs in one basket, even if it is a pretty shiny new basket with lots of whistles and bells on it.
I find that personal meetings are most effective and anyone in my network that I want to have a really tight relationship with, I will try to have lunch or coffee or drinks with them at least once per year. This face to face time brings us closer than messaging on Facebook or LinkedIn and allows for us to discuss things of mutual interest in more detail. It also allows me a chance to see exactly what it is this person needs and how I can help them and also ask for whatever help I may need.
These are just a few suggestions to helping you strengthen your relationships and build stronger professional relationships. The most important thing to remember is to connect and keep connecting. Also, offer value and stay in front of people. Finally, use multiple ways to connect with people. The more you reach out the stronger your relationships will become and your opportunities will grow. Guaranteed.