people networkingDuring one of our first dates, my now husband asked me, “What’s this world all about, Susan?” I answered, “Relationships.”

Whether it’s your relationship with family, friends, co-workers, employees, customers, suppliers, competitors, teachers, advisors, etc.—every interaction affects your life in some way. And the value of relationships can’t be ignored, particularly when it comes to building your business.

In the Little Black Book of Connections, author Jeffrey Gitomer writes, “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends.” So if you want to succeed—expand your network of friends.

Many small business owners tell me they don’t have time to network. Really? Can you afford not to? Your professional network is one of the biggest assets you can have.

Here are some tips to help you build a strong network:

1. Start with who you already know

Even if you haven’t really thought about it that way, you already have a network in place. Call it your holiday card list if you want, but most of us know quite a few people, so start there.

If you haven’t connected with someone in awhile, rekindle the relationship with a call or email. Then nurture your contacts by staying in touch regularly. Don’t expect someone you met three years ago, and haven’t talked to since, to offer you a helping hand when you need it. You have to work at developing the relationship.

2. Be committed to building your network

You aren’t networking if you’re out for instant gratification. An effective network is built on a solid foundation of relationships built over time. A number of years ago, I taught a women’s entrepreneurial training course at a community college. During the semester, I included a section on networking. One of the students returned to class a few weeks later and told everyone that networking events were a waste of time for her. When I asked why she felt that way, she explained she’d paid to go to several events in her community and passed out tons of business cards, but she hadn’t gotten any business.

When you make a new business acquaintance, take time to learn as much about them as you possibly can. Don’t look at them with dollar signs in your eyes. Take time to get to know them by asking open ended questions and listening! Are there common interests you share? Do your children go to the same school?

3. Follow-up is key

Stacking business cards on your desk or scanning them into Outlook doesn’t create a network. Sending your new acquaintance a brochure or sales letter doesn’t develop a relationship, either. And calling to set an appointment or make a sale is really not going to do the trick.

Taking time to develop a relationship is what’s going to help you build a solid network. For example, let’s say I met you at an event and during our conversation you mention you’re a dog lover. Guess what, so am I. We have a nice conversation and you tell me you’d like to know more about creating a dog-friendly office environment. So what do I do? I go back to my office and send a “nice to meet you” email, but in addition I include a link to an article with advice for pet-friendly workplaces.

4. Be a giver, not a taker

You know the old adage, it’s better to give than to receive? Well, that applies here, too. Be willing to put the other person first. Find out how you can help them and follow through. Perhaps you can make an introduction or suggest a good resource for their business. Become the “go-to” person. Then, when you need assistance, you’ll be rewarded abundantly.

So if you thought money makes the world go round— think again. Relationships are the key to your success. Be an effective networker and your business will reap the rewards.

What techniques have you used to network and build your relationships? Tell us in the comments below!