Every time my cousin calls me, he asks if I’m at a coffee shop — and at least half the time, he’s right. It’s a standing joke between us, but also a direct reflection of the time I spend connecting with people in person, usually over coffee (or tea — funny enough, I hate coffee).
Call it whatever you want: networking, stakeholder relations, government relations, industry relations, or sphere of influence. No matter which statement resonates with you, the root meaning is the same: to establish and maintain professional relationships that support mutual interests and opportunities.
I choose to call them connections.
I typically connect with anywhere from one to four people a week to engage, share best practices and discuss potential collaborations. Sometimes we chat about a current project or opportunity, while other meetings are strictly relationship builders.
Developing my professional network has been a top priority for me since the start of my career, both as an employee working to build my name, and even more so now as a business owner working to build a brand.
If you’re looking to take the next step beyond Networking 101, here are three tips for establishing your own personal connections.
Be strategic. Communications is always rooted in strategy and developing connections is no different. What’s your goal? Are you just starting out in the industry and looking for guidance? Do you want to build awareness about a new service you’re offering? Is there a career-change in your future? The answers to these questions will help you determine the right type of people that you need to connect with, whether it be influencers, mentors, or educators.
Think long term. Relationship building does NOT include hitting up people for favours at your first meeting. There will also be connections that never become about favours or a game of quid-pro-quo, but rather about general support and guidance. It’s a process similar to the dating game: it takes time and doesn’t always work out. But when a connection solidifies and you establish a strong, professional relationship, it becomes an important part of your growth and development.
Plan your time. One comment I get constantly is about the amount of time it takes for all of these coffee meetings. Yes, it does take time out of your day not only for the meeting, but also travel time. Look at networking as an investment in yourself, your career, or business. To avoid losing massive chunks of time, try scheduling all of your connection meetings back-to-back on one afternoon. It eliminates transportation time and reduces the impact on work days throughout the rest of the week.
Building relationships will prove to be a key element to both individual career growth and business development so get started today! You don’t have to begin with two, three or four meetings a week. Start with one. Pick one person you’ve been previously introduced to and have been meaning to follow up with and make the call.