How to build a business network

The following is based on a great article by Anna Jankowska, VP of Global Partnerships at RTB House.

This article was published in the Forbes Business Development Council on Jun 10, 2021.

As a VP of Global Partnerships, my job is to build and maintain relationships for the business.

It’s a networking position, but I would say that the best way to build a professional network is to ignore the business element when establishing a new connection, continue to ignore it as you get to know one another, and absolutely ignore it once you are firm friends. 

Professional networking works best when you can completely remove the thought of what you might gain from each relationship. 

Here’s how and why. 

Reassessing The Reasons For Building A Network

  • People often build professional networks to target potential customers or gain more visibility.
    • Both motivations fall short in the modern world.
  • Firstly, looking at each new contact as a potential source of income doesn’t work in the long run.
    • You may win a few deals by making compelling pitches to new contacts, but your reputation eventually starts to precede you. 
  • Thirdly, visibility should be distinct from credibility.
    • Don’t add more and more people to your circle. 
    • Nobody wants to become your contact so you can achieve vanity metrics. 
    • Whether you have 10,000 or 10 people in your network, you will be judged on the quality of what you share. 

Better Networking Without Business Motivation

  • The best network connections are not about chasing leads. 
  • They bring together like-minded people who want to build healthy partnerships and move things forward, contributing to a better world. Here are three authentic reasons for building networks:
    • Exchanging information with people and sharing expertise. 
    • When making a new contact, ask yourself what you can give. 
    • What expertise can you share that might elevate your new partner’s professional competencies? 
    • Also, think about what you can learn from that person. 
    • Can you enhance your skillset and become a better business partner for others in the future?

Paying it forward

  • Not everything has to be quid pro quo!
  • You should give freely to others without expecting something in return.
    • Likewise, when help is offered, accept it without always feeling the necessity to give something back. 
    • In fact, you may never be able to return the favor, but you may have the opportunity to pay it forward to others.

Act as a gateway for others to build their networks

  • Often, the greatest value you can bring is the people you know. 
  • When you connect with a new person, think about who in your network might be great for them to know. 
  • Once you have established a strong enough relationship to vouch for both sides, can you bring those people together? 

The Four Must-Haves Of Your Personal Brand

  • Networking is building your personal brand. You have one face and one name; you need them both to be associated with these four things at all times:
    • Trust
      • The best way to build trust is not to try and make a sale — especially at the very start of a relationship. 
      • Trust takes time. 
      • In fact, it only has value if it is hard-won. 
      • Yes, people are sceptical about online contacts and their intentions. But it gets easier with each contact you make. Nurturing your first contacts and building healthy relationships with them — without working a business angle — will form your first trusted partnerships. 
      • These people then become your biggest advocates in the future. 
      • Many people you add to your network will come through existing contacts. 
      • These people will vouch for you in advance, meaning that the people who join your network later on will come with a pre-established level of trust toward you.
    • Consistency
      • You need to be consistent in your intentions, your communications and your trustworthiness. However, you should also think of network building as a slow process that requires consistent work. If you really want to nurture a professional network, you need to put in time and effort on a daily basis.
      • As your career evolves, so do your skills and what you can offer. Your network changes and grows over time. It’s a never-ending process. Your network requires constant and consistent maintenance to make sure that it reflects who you are at any given time, not a past version of yourself.
  • Quality
  • Share things of value that are validated by your own expertise. Before you post or share your opinion, ask yourself two questions:
    • Does it need to be said? 
    • Does it need to be said by me? 
  • If the answer is yes, then take responsibility, speak up and deliver an opinion of quality.
    • However, even if you know that your opinion has value and your words have power, don’t fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously. 
    • The best networking relationships are the ones where people leave their egos at the door.
  • Vulnerability
  • We all make mistakes. 
  • The online world can be quick to judge and slow to forgive. 
  • However, in the vast majority of cases, people see your good intentions, not your missteps. 
  • If you do make a mistake, you have to take public responsibility for your failings if you want to be trusted in the long-term. 
  • Don’t try to spin it or make excuses. 
  • Be honest and gain respect by taking ownership. 
  • This is what I call “the asset of vulnerability”, and it is indicative of a recent change in how many view mistakes. 
  • The business world used to be an alpha-dominated environment. 
  • Showing anything less than a perfect public face was quickly seen as a weakness. 
  • Nowadays, vulnerability is a strength. 
  • What’s more, it is a two-way process. 
  • People will trust you more if you own your mistakes; as a result, they will often feel more comfortable about owning theirs too. And that makes for better business all around.