Long-term relationships create strong networks
There's nothing like an evening out with friends.
Every once in a while our close circle gets together. One of the group might have a birthday, for example, and our tradition is to treat the birthday boy or girl (and their spouse) to dinner. Thinking about these gatherings, it occurred to me that we've known most of these people for anywhere from five to 15 years.
We've seen each other through birthdays and marriages, through births and deaths, through a little bit of sorrow and a lot of laughter. I can say that without exception I would trust any of them with my life.
If you had those same strong relationships in business, these would be the same people who would not only vouch for you by passing along a referral, they might very well do the selling for you and just give you a signed contract. To tell you the truth, I've been blessed with those kind of business relationships from time to time.
The thing is, none of these connections happened in a day. My friends, now, at one point were mere acquaintances.
When I first met them, for me to ask them for a bed for the night because we'd lost power at home would have seemed a little odd, possibly a little creepy. By the same token, if I had walked up to my strongest business connections when I first met them at the chamber breakfast event and asked them for business, they probably would have backed away very slowly, keeping an eye on me at all times (or taken my card and promised to call me as soon as they had something for me — pretty much the same thing).
Every relationship you have has a certain depth or closeness, depending on the time you've known each other, the experiences you've shared, and the value you've provided each other. You may ask of that relationship only those things that are appropriate for that level of closeness. A new acquaintance might be willing to let you borrow his pen, but he's likely to be a bit more reticent to hand over the keys to his car. Be sure that you never exceed the natural level of a relationship, or you risk tainting what might have been a much more long-term (and profitable) opportunity.
Greg Peters, founder of The Reluctant Networker LLC, writes, speaks and coaches about good networking practice. For more tips that can help your connections count, go to 52-tips.thereluctantnetworker.com.