Sahil Vora is the Founder and Managing Director of SILA.
The concept of networking is on its way out. Building successful work relationships is critical to gain clients, investors, mentors and employees for your business.
Many entrepreneurs flood networking events in a bid to build businesses. After several handshakes and awkward conversations, many find themselves under a mountain of cards on their desk. Early entrepreneurs often make the mistake of spamming every email address the very next day.
I once spent lakhs of rupees to attend a one-day conference and made a dash for every card there was. The very next day, I diligently shot emails to all of them. I received zero response. Just think about it. How would one remember every person they exchanged cards with, and why would they write back if no context was established to start a conversation?
Some say that your network is your net worth. That is not true. Networking doesn’t always help your business in the long run. It could drain your energy and confidence and may not give you what you actually need--meaningful connections, advice and capital.
Networking will get you business cards but building a relationship will get you business. While networking is a near-term, instant gratification route, if you build solid relationships with even 10 out of 100 people you contact, it will undeniably create long-term value.
How to build a relationship
Building a business relationship takes time and consistent effort. Don’t do it due to an ulterior motive.
Be polite and thoughtful in your conversations. Cultivate empathy, be curious and treat potential connections with respect.
Think beyond business interests. Wish them on events and occasions that matter to them. Be in touch with them not because you want something they have, but because you genuinely admire them as individuals. Connecting with strangers and asking them for favours without learning about them or establishing context is rude and annoying.
Inform them about the changes you have made to your business (for e.g. if you have announced a new product range or service) and ask them for feedback. Share relevant information, data, articles or trend updates that you think might benefit them. Follow up with them periodically, either quarterly or biannually.
Before you seek a relationship, find out your strengths and values. Are you confident about what you have to offer? Ask yourself what will be your contribution to this connection. Help them in achieving their visions and goals if possible.
Honesty is valuable - it is the foundation of any strong relationship. Finally, keep a tab on the quality of your interactions.
Whom to build the relationship with
Do you think the above tasks are possible for 100 business cards? Pick and choose whom you want to build a relationship with.
Have diversified acquaintances. I have good business relations with people from diverse industries and backgrounds with different expertise, skill sets and domains. I keep in touch with people who are not related to my field. They can be from real estate, tax and finance, IT, anywhere.
I did not invest time in these relations because I saw them as potential clients. When I am stuck over a decision, I call these people who I know will listen to me and give me advice within their area of expertise, which is crucial for any business.
In my company, I connect with industry peers every Saturday. I jump on a call with people on different levels in companies to just pick their brain. The point of these calls is simply knowledge sharing and building relationships. You offer them some industry insights and they reciprocate with what they know. By the end of a 40-minute phone call, they tell me that no one ever does this and I know I have this connection hooked. I must have made 40-50 such calls to date and every minute has been worth it. A good amount of people I spoke with are now part of my team.
It is a very time consuming process to find the right people to connect with and then nurture a mutually beneficial relationship with them over time. However, this approach generates a tremendously high return on investment (ROI) compared to business won, if any, from a business card.
From personal experience, I believe that when you go to someone for capital, you receive advice and when you ask for advice, you get the capital. It’s all about building trust and credibility, which happens over time.
As Newton's law says, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you provide value, you receive value in return.
The author is Founder and Managing Director of SILA.