6 steps to making connections…
Step 1. Know your own business and its agenda
This might seem obvious really but you would be surprised how many people cannot think strategically about business connections because they don’t really know what their business needs or where it’s heading.
Do you know what areas of your business can benefit from collaboration with other organisations?
Are there some skill sets your organisation needs for a limited time that can be gained by partnering with another organisation rather than bringing them into your organisation at great expense?
Is there a specific tender you want to be prepared for when it comes available but you know there are deficits in your organisation that could be filled by working with someone else?
These, of course, are just a limited few examples of what you need to think about when you’re heading out to establish strategic connections for your organisation.
If you don’t think about these things in advance, what chance do you really have of making connections that will increase productivity in your organisation?
Step 2. Know what an ideal connection looks like
So once you know the areas of your business that can benefit from connecting with another person or organisation, you need to think about what that connection really looks like.
Is that connection in fact a person or is it a whole organisation?
What industry or sector are they from?
What skills do they bring that your organisation needs?
Where are they geographically located?
Are they well connected in areas that will benefit your business agenda?
Again, these are just some questions to get you thinking. Once you start jotting down points you may have other thoughts to add to this list.
Once you’ve figured out exactly what that connection looks like, give them a name. Personalise them. Then think about what you can offer them in return.
After all, no one should ever turn up to a dinner party empty handed. It’s just good manners really.
Step 3. Identify key events relevant to your business
Every year there are bound to be at least a handful of significant events that are relevant to your business, including industry conferences, breakfast seminars and the like.
Use those events to start a list of events you must attend and network at.
Add to that, a list of event topics and event styles you want to attend so that you’re only spending your time on events that are useful to your business.
- [topic] NDIS implementation [style] workshops
- [topic] Disability sector workforce [style] breakfasts
- [topic] Digital disruption in the Community Services industry [style] seminars
Step 4. Start before you’re desperate.
You need to start building networks that align with your business agenda before you need them.
It always seems so much harder to find the right person/organisation and get them to collaborate with you when you’re under the pump to do so. Why? Because when you’re under the pump you can inadvertently make people feel like you’re only interested in them because of what they can do for you.
People just don’t respond to that and you’ll find you get absolutely nowhere.
This fantastic Forbes quote from American Entrepreneur, Andrew Vest, backs this up perfectly: “seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. People can sense when someone is only out to help themselves. On the other hand, by networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving.”
“seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. People can sense when someone is only out to help themselves. On the other hand, by networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving.” – Andrew Vest, Entrepreneur
Go to every event with the planning you’ve done in mind but focus more intently on what you can do for those you meet and how you can add value to their business before asking them to add value to yours.
You might not ask them to add value to your business for 6 – 12 months or more. It’s about making a meaningful connection and maintaining that connection because at some point down the track you may be positioned to help or work with one another.
Nothing replaces the human connection.
Never dismiss anyone as unimportant.
Step 5. Identify a shared problem.
Are you ready to take the connection you’ve been busy nurturing to the next level?
Depending on the stage you’re at in building your relationship, you may find that the best way to cement this relationship is to identify a shared problem you can solve better together than separately.
Arrange to have lunch or coffee with your connection, it doesn’t really matter which as long as you’re creating a human and relaxed environment. It’s about removing the pressure or expectation when you propose working together to solve this shared problem.
Go armed with how you see this problem being solved through the partnership, know what you think they would do and what you think you would do. Know what the outcome is you expect to achieve and what the costs (tangible or otherwise) are that come with reaching that outcome.
If the conversation goes well, formalise it afterwards.
Working together to solve a shared problem (and doing it successfully) lays particularly good foundations for when you need your connection to come to the party for a more one-sided problem.
In saying that, you should only ever seek out collaborative relationships where both parties benefit in some way. The suggestion here is only that a collaboration may represent a means to solve a problem for you but offer your connection an opportunity they may have not previously considered.
Step 6. Maintain respectful engagement
Follow up and follow through are the two most important parts of making connections that will increase productivity in your organisation.
You must be consistent and reliable if you expect the same from your connection.
There is an excellent article on the Mind Tools website that talks about the creation of high quality connections.
They are very specific as well about the importance of maintaining respectful engagement and they provide a list of points to help you do just that:
Give your connection your full attention, no matter how busy you are and make sure your body language doesn’t betray you
Confirm your understanding of what has been said to you and acknowledge any emotions that might be being shared. Avoid jumping to conclusions and going into conversation with your mind made up about how it will flow and what you will say.
Punctuality is a sign of respect. It applies to meetings and it applies to commitments you’ve made.
Authenticity is about trust and letting your connection know that your actions and decisions relate to your own mind rather than external pressures or expectations.
Let your connection know that they are valued and respected. It doesn’t have to be done in an over the top, overt manner. For example, you can simply let them know that you’re grateful for their support during a busy time for them.
Be positive and respectful in your communication. Avoid miscommunication by using positive language, clearly defining terms and setting specific objectives.
All of this sets a tone for how you expect to be treated in return and forms a basis for a high quality and meaningful relationship.
An outstanding podcast that you might benefit from in relation to this topic comes from Ben Fewtrell at Business Brain Food Podcast. In this particular episode, Ben talks to master networker Matt Holmes who provides really fantastic, actionable tips for networking success.
To give you a sneak peek, here are some of the highlights outlined in the show notes for this episode:
- When approaching someone online who you don’t know, be specific. Make them feel that they’re the only person capable of doing what you’re asking them to do.
- At networking events, don’t assume that just handing out your business card is the main goal. Have a conversation first before you go steaming in.
- Keep the ball rolling with the contacts you meet in real life. Follow up immediately online by adding them on one of your social networks.
- Wear a different hat depending on the networking event you’re attending. For example, consider if your goal is to find leads or if it’s to gain referrals. These two scenarios would require significantly different conversations.
- Get the job done quickly – it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s more important to strike while the iron’s hot (i.e. when your new contact/audience is receptive) than to wait longer and aim for perfection.
One of the 7 success imperatives that came from the Forecasting the future: Community Services in Queensland 2025 Report was collaboration and cooperation. Without these steps above you are missing the critical foundations for acheiving this success imperative. Partnerships and collaborative models within the Industry, with other businesses, institutions, investors, clients and communities is not possible without first being able to make meaningful connections that result in improved productivity in your organisation.
Have you read Forecasting the future: Community Services in Queensland 2025? Download the full report by clicking the button below.