Your social media footprint and the number of real-life follow-ups you make with that crowd – along with the business contacts you make in the day-to-day – can really help your business. Some reports say that between 70%-80% of positions are filled via networking. But have you wondered how the size of your network can indirectly affect your business relationships?
The Business Relationship
A business relationship can be defined as “a process where two firms or other types of organizations ‘form strong and extensive social, economic, service and technical ties over time, with the intent of lowering total costs and/or increasing value, thereby achieving mutual benefit’. One study, in particular, suggests that “on average, firms have ten important business relationships.”
One way of measuring the types of relationships is this model:
It suggests there are four types of relationships your business can form:
Customers – Surely one of the most important “ships” your business needs.
Suppliers – Having a great “ship” made of suppliers ensures you the edge.
Complementors – The third “ship” should be filled with people and businesses that far from being in competition with you actually complement what you do – and vice versa.
Competitors – The fourth “ship” is made from those you compete with; because by working together, there’s a greater chance for both of you to succeed.
Another resource – The Muse – suggests five types of people you should be networking with. They include:
Trailblazers – people with similar but more established businesses.
Role Models – people with businesses you admire in other industries.
Thought Leaders – smart folk who think differently.
Informants – those people who know a lot and share that information.
Cheerleaders – good people with good intentions.
Ultimately, the larger the network of relationships you have means the greater your potential and the bigger your value. Networks have become the main approach to “describing spreading processes such as epidemics or information transfer because they express the heterogeneity of interactions characteristic of many human activities.”
The Harvard Business Review had this to say about forming networks:
“We’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.”
To that end, the HBR has proposed there are three separate forms of networking. They are:
Operational – helps manage current internal responsibilities.
Personal – helps boost personal development.
Strategic – opens eyes to new business directions and stakeholders needed to enlist.
Source: Harvard Business Review
One benefit of networking is that mutual connections enable possible business partners and/or clients to do reputable research and make positive (or negative) findings on the person they are considering working with. Because the truth is indeed out there – it just sometimes takes more than just Googling to find it!
How do you utilize a network properly to gain new business relationships? Or just to maintain existing ones?
First off, remember that your network is your sales safety net. As such, every new relationship should be tended too; nothing happens overnight, and it’s increasingly hard to remain in the forefront of people’s memories.
Become better at communication
You should become adept at communication; make it your best friend and follow up without becoming a nuisance. It’s often about timing, and you can meet someone that might be a great help – but a year from now. So add them to your newsletter, follow up on birthdays, etc – anything to keep on their radar because when something comes up, you’ll be in mind.
Be a resource
Email marketing can help with that. Beyond just using email to reach out to say hi, use it to share information. Be a resource. It also gives you a chance to be viral too, as your contacts pass the info along to people they know.
The bigger your network size, the more opportunities you create. LinkedIn is a great platform for business networking and as such has created its own world. What are its rules and how could they help?
First, LinkedIn always suggests you know the person you’re trying to connect to because LinkedIn places constraints on the size of the network. Also, reaching out to complete strangers means they have the ability to dismiss your invite with an “I don’t know” – and if you get five of these, your account will be temporarily suspended.
But LinkedIn doesn’t just provide you the opportunity to network; it shows others who are already in your network along with its size and its shape. And here’s where it gets interesting – because some suggest shape is more important than size.
According to Ed Han at The Balance, “it’s important to network with specific people: your networking activity should be targeted. This is what I refer to as your network’s shape, and it’s why I say it trumps network size.”
Networks should bring you at least two things:
Instrumental Support – this is comprised of the ideas, advice, and aid people can bring to your table.
Psychosocial Support – this helps you survive/thrive as a person.
The Harvard Business Review suggests that instead of dismissing the huge network of people you don’t really know, embrace it for what it is; a huge source of ideas, connections, and assistance. That way you can find the Instrumental Support you’re looking for. Use it as your personal hive mind.
Get your Psychosocial Support
However, it goes on to suggest that in terms of Psychosocial Support, you’ll have to look to places less digital and more flesh and blood. Places like outside your immediate department; with people who have similar family situations; and with those you’ve known for a long time who can provide greater perspective.
Positive and Possible and Nurturing
To get the most out of your network size and, ultimately, affect your business relations in the most positive ways possible, means finding that sweet spot between Instrumental and Psychosocial. To do that, you’ll have to put in the work and devote some blood and sweat equity into building the connections you have and nurturing them.
One last tip: help others first instead of waiting for them to help you.
One last tip: help others first instead of waiting for them to help you. That way your networking won’t be seen as a selfish means to grow your own business but what it should be; an organic approach to building relationships through network size.
Startup Grind is a Silicon Valley-based organization that educates and mentors entrepreneurs through monthly business events and speaking series in cities across the globe