There is no shortage of articles on “How to Build Strong Business Relationships in a Few Easy Steps”. In my opinion, there are no shortcuts.
I have written before about lessons I learned from my grandpa Joe. I am reminded again of a lesson my father taught me when I was very young. It is a lesson my grandpa Joe taught to him when he was the same age. He explained that when you borrowed something, you always returned it in better shape than when you received it. If we borrowed a tool from a neighbor, we always cleaned it and oiled it, so that it was nicer when we returned it than when we received it. If we borrowed a friend’s truck to help someone move, we always washed it, vacuumed it — and whenever possible — fixed something on it. It became a game to find something that could be fixed or improved, and then to see if the owner noticed. The obvious lesson was, if you returned more than you borrowed, people would clearly want to help you out in the future.
I try to keep this same philosophy as an adult. I find that it is very applicable to my business relationships. In the case of networking, if I “borrow” a favor, then I return a larger favor whenever possible. A strong business network is based on respect, trust and value-add. Unfortunately, too many people forget this last step.
I am a huge supporter of social media. If you browse my blog, you will find plenty of articles discussing the benefits of Twitter and other social media movements. I believe that social media is going to dramatically change the way we market and communicate moving forward. However, we need to remind ourselves that these are simply networking tools. Powerful tools, but nothing more than tools that increase the effectiveness of our communication. I am seeing too many instances where these tools are being promoted and implemented as strategies on their own, rather than tools to support a more fundamental networking philosophy.
Many people believe that building a large network on LinkedIn has tremendous value. The reality is that a small group of 50 close relationships is much better than 500 loose acquaintances. Simply opening your LinkedIn network and allowing people to join gives you a large address book – and nothing more. This does not give you a strong business network. Contacts are not the same as relationships who are willing to work for you. To build a strong business network takes work. It takes time and resources. It takes a genuine interest in helping those in your network. There is no shortcut.
Throughout our careers, we will change companies, titles and responsibilities. However, we bring our personal brand and our business relationships with us. These are the two items that have the most value to our career. However, most people spend very little time managing and nurturing either one. There are no shortcuts. However, if we focus on giving rather than taking and returning borrowed items or favors in better shape than when we borrowed them, our personal brand and business networks will take care of themselves.
What do you think? I would love to get some feedback on this one.
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