There have been many articles written about networking - especially during this economic downturn. In recent weeks, I've read that you should join an executive golf networking group, connect with anyone who asks on LinkedIn, you shouldn't spend time with the same people, etc.
Brad Feld recently wrote about the disturbing trend to transactional encounters rather than relationships. I am not sure if the trend to transactional reflects a need for immediate gratification, is a sign of desperation, or if people just didn't listen to lessons their mother taught them.
The truth is, there is no easy path to developing a meaningful network. It's not about collecting business cards or golfing partners or meeting as many people as you can. It's about building relationships. In the current social networking world, some people seem intent to "friend" everyone and feel that the moment they meet you, they are "entitled" to tap into your network.
The following are some observations I've made over the years about building relationships:
1. Be a giver not a taker
Make deposits before withdrawals. Nothing turns people off faster than someone who gives you a download of their needs with little or no regards for yours. Take the time to understand the other person's needs. Seek to help them first.
Help people. One very successful investment banker has made it a point to know all of the leading surgeons and researchers in the medical field so that he could help the families of colleagues in his network. Another person helps find jobs and internships for children of colleagues and friends.
2. Go deep
Get involved with organizations and make a difference. People will make decisions about you based on how you engage with not for profit and community organizations. If you get involved and make a difference, people will take notice. If you merely distribute cards and look for introductions, they will notice that as well. We have made it a point to participate in organizations where we can get things accomplished and use our skills to advance the organization's vision and mission. Our consulting firm is all about execution and getting results for clients - people do notice that we do the same thing within the community. Want people to see you as dependable, creative, a leader? Superficial "fly-by" participation will not do it.
3. Deliver on your promises
If you say you'll do something for someone, make sure you follow-through. People want to build relationships with people who are dependable.
4. Do it for the right reasons
Some people call it creating good karma, others say it's doing the right thing. The key is that if you go out of your way to help others -it will come back. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but it will come back.
5. Say thank you
Your mother taught you always to say thank you when someone helps you. People want to know that were helpful and that you appreciate their efforts.
6. Stay visible
Many folks in transition are visible in the community only as long as it takes to find the next job. It is likely you will need to network again in your lifetime. Create a positive lasting impression. Otherwise, why would someone ever want to help you again?