Posted by: kevinliebl | June 16, 2009

Building Strong Business Relationships – Take Care of Your Network, and It will Take Care of You

Social Media NetworkingThere 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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Responses

  1. Dear Kevin,

    Thanks for such a nice posting. I strongly believe that creating, maintaining and nurturing business relationships are the most important things for a marketing person. I admit, there is no short cut to that. It requires really a long time to gain the trust of the people. It requires honesty and genuine efforts from our side as well.

    We should try to discover some ways in which we can be useful to the persons we are connected to.

    Best Regards,
    Manjeet

  2. Your message above is spot on in my opinion. Whether it’s MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn or some other social networking Web site I am selective in who I allow to join. Sometimes I skim through my email subscriptions from LinkedIn and I almost want to just terminate my subscriptions because more and more people are just using people, fishing, and blindly marketing without being personable.

    We live busy lives, most of us anyways, and sometimes we need to remember that close business relationships help us not only financially but they help us grow as people and enjoy who we spend time doing business with and therefor feel more gratification from the work we do.

    – Josh

    P.S. If by chance someone did not have a grandpa Joe or father to teach us these things, then is is up to us to seek out someone who can and not blame our family but instead help them learn and understand the lessons these and similar lessons.

    • Josh,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, we all lead busy lives, and at times, it is easy to say, “I don’t have time to build my network”. However, you can argue that you don’t have time not to. People are beginning to realize that we don’t build careers at companies anymore. This is a sad statement, and certainly there are exceptions. However, in most cases, we are simply taking on “assignments” at companies that have limited tenure. The average employment at most companies is 18-36 months.

      If this is true, then we need to build our personal brand and our personal / business network so that when we are in transition we can use these to identify our next opportunity. We can’t afford not to maintain those relationships.

      Good luck to you,

      Kevin

  3. Great article..and very timely for me as I am for the first time ever unemployed and now networking to find new opportunities and contacts to break through this tough market.

    I already see the value, and realizing how small the world is when you start to connect with people.

    I am seeing the value in giving of yourself, time and knowledge, because it will always comes back to you, usually in another form, but it will. I like what you say about returning something in better shape that you received it…I will definitely keep that in mind as I continue my pursuits!

    • Katia,

      Sorry to hear that you are in transition. Yes, a very timely article for you and many others – myself included. Keep networking as this is where most people will find their next opportunity. If I can be of assistance in your search, don’t hesitate to ask. You can email me privately if you like (KJLBlog@me.com).

      I am happy to help. Isn’t that what networking is all about .

      Best Regards,

      Kevin

  4. You’re so correct, Kevin. Its important to add value and nurture relationships. Social networking is not a numbers game, its simply the evolution of your face to face connections going virtual.

    Everybody steers away from a salesperson, yet they will listen to an expert who provides valuable information. If you have a vested interest in the success of those you are connected to, they will know. They will also know if you are simply there to pitch your next product, so don’t be that guy 🙂

    • “Don’t be that guy.” – Well put.

  5. Phenomenally written blog Kevin! I completely agree.

    There are far too many people who “depend” on social networking as the driving force behind their marketing efforts. In reality, it is just like you mentioned, simply a tool to help support your core business. I’m a firm believer in the fact that online social networking, if anything, should begin the relationship and ultimately lead to face-to-face, or as I like to say belly-to-belly networking. There is no substitute for the real thing.

    Thanks again Kevin. Great article!

    All the best,
    Royce Running

  6. Excellent article, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I refuse to connect with people on LinkedIn who are merely looking to “expand their network.” Especially when, after perusing their profile, I don’t see any reason for us to “know” each other, other than the fact that they are building a network of seemingly thousands of professionals.

    I believe that “what goes around, comes around.” Networking and helping others is based on a set of personal beliefs that stems from within. It is usually welcomed with open arms, and remembered and rewarded with long term relationships with people who truly matter.

  7. Kevin,

    Great blog. A lot of good points and I love the example about returning something borrowed in better shape.

    Thanks for putting in the time and energy in your blog. It’s a lot of work and I appreciate all you put into it.

  8. Nicely put to the point. I definitely agree!

    Although, ‘social media’ and ‘networking’ are two great business words —– both can lead to potentially a wonderful relationship or a forgotten one.

    Let’s take out the business context or connotation out of those words, and I would basically have ‘friends’.

    ———–
    Maybe I’m being gullible, but I feel relationships should be similar or reflect our own personal life. Everyone’s busy in life, it just depends how the relationship is picked up again after and during all the ruckus of life.

    Perspectives of a Generation NEXT:
    X & Millennium,

    Diana Wei

  9. Excellent points made! Another term for this calling it “FriendWork” rather than Network, since what you’re really doing is making friends, rather than just business associates.

    I’ve have some very good business and personal relationships develop because of the give-take nature. Give first and it will return in kind.

    Depth is more valuable than breadth.
    Thanks for making this distinction.

  10. Hey Kevin,

    Thanks for contributing your blog posts to my So Cal Sushi Group. You have a very insightful view into social media and write in a crisp, easy to understand way. Looking forward to your future blog posts!

    You hit it right on the head: Social Media is a tool, and nothing more. And if you use the tool to build relationships, you have to be more personable and caring than in real life because everyone can see your actions and the recipient of your actions will want to know that you are speaking directly to them, not to everyone in the room.

    I do see value in having a large LinkedIn network, but this is only to supplement and complement my physical network. You are right that these are only “contacts” and can only be converted into “connections” after you have a chance to meet them and build a physical relationship. But my whole philosophy is that Social Media gives us a chance to meet new people, and we should be exploiting that opportunity.

    I am near completion of my first book on social media and social networking with a concentration on LinkedIn which talks about these concepts in more details. I look forward to seeing your opinion on my work.

    And, of course, I hope to see you soon at a So Cal Sushi event!

    Cheers,
    Neal Schaffer

  11. A good point in the source article – keep connected through relationships rather than through many contacts. However, it’s hard not to fall into the mode of connecting with more people than you can safely build a relationship with. My thoughts are that while you can connect with many people, you keep a short list of those that you have developed a proper, business relationship with.
    ML

  12. Wow! Great article! And yes indeed: it is all about building relationships. I couldn’t agree more.
    And about giving – we all tend to forget that!
    I’m building my network slowly, step by step, with people I know or want to know. I totally agree with Carolyn Goodman: “I refuse to connect with people on LinkedIn who are merely looking to “expand their network.”
    That’s a tip I read in How to REALLY use LinkedIn, the Amazon Best Seller by Jan Vermeiren.
    You can download a free light version at http://www.how-to-really-use-linkedin.com.
    Enjoy!

  13. Thanks for the tip Annemie Janssens. I look forward to going to this site to read more about how to really use LinkedIn. I am pretty new to this social networking stuff and have been doing notes, popbys and calls to build and maintain relationships within our shere of influence. I have learned, however, that the referrals from our friends and family have proven to be better referral partners than our original group of family and friends. Since the referrals are extensions of our family and friends, we are all “like-minded” and this works out great. Working by referral is the best way to do and maintain a healthy business. Social Networking is a way for us to keep up with what’s going on., I guess.

  14. […] on a piece of paper that is one-dimensional.  This reinforces the argument that we all need to build a strong network so that we have internal sponsors who can verbally communicate some of our personal […]

  15. Very timely article… I found out how one must nurture even the close contacts little too late. Some of my contacts didn’t respond when I reached out to them after not being in touch for several years.

    My first task after I get through my current situation is to apologize and rebuild my relationship with them.


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