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Tuesday, 22 May 2018 09:04

How do you maintain your professional network?

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The original question as posed to me was “What tactics do you use to build and maintain your professional network?”

It adds the element of ‘building’ to the posted question of ‘maintaining’.

Both building and maintaining are action words and both require work on your part. Professional networks do not build themselves, nor do they maintain themselves.

Here is an article that I wrote that likens building and maintaining relationships to planting seeds in a gardenJohnny Appleseed Knew What He Was Doing: Power Networking Tips & Techniques.

The article is also featured in my book with other helpful tips at Power Networking for Shy People: Tips & Techniques for Moving from Shy to Sly!.


Legend has it that Johnny Appleseed traveled the American countryside spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery.

Many people’s business networking activities can be a lot like randomly spreading those apple seeds. Some might grow but most likely left to their own, they will fail to develop and eventually die off.

Relationships need to be nurtured. Often the word cultivated is used to describe what needs to take place for a relationship to grow. Both words are really describing an active interest, desire and taking action-oriented steps to develop a relationship with another individual.

So how does one cultivate a relationship? I have some cynical colleagues who would say that would treat them the same way as you would cultivate mushrooms. You keep them in the dark and feed them BS [male cow manure.] I would suspect that they have few quality connections. I certainly wouldn’t want to be connected to them with that attitude.

Let’s leave the agriculture analogy for a while and go to back to the question of how does one cultivate a relationship?

Consider these following steps or actions: (They aren’t necessarily in the order that you would take. Relationship building can be more of a circuitous journey rather than a lineal one.)

· Research the individual. Check them out on Linkedin. Find out what their vocation and background is.

· Invite them out for coffee. Look for common interests.

· Be on the lookout for resource materials related to their interests and forward it on to them.

· Send them thank you notes or appropriate gifts to recognize help that they have provided to you.

· Send congratulatory messages e.g. cards/notes by snail mail or perhaps by e-mail for important milestones both personal and business. Seeing their name in the paper can be a great opportunity to drop them a note and congratulate them, assuming it wasn’t in Crime Stoppers or the Most Wanted List of course.

· If you are comfortable in doing so, send them business referrals. The law of reciprocity says that if you do something good for somebody else they in turn will do something good for you.

· Perhaps you have heard of the concept of “unconditional love?” To successfully cultivate a relationship, you can’t put terms in place. Doing so could jeopardize the relationship.

· Don’t appear to be a stalker with your focused interest.

So far, we have been looking at active steps that you can take. For a relationship to develop you need to be open to sharing of yourself. It can’t be a one-way transaction. There has to be a payoff for you as well.

Getting back to that agricultural analogy of cultivating, sometimes you need to do some pruning to help strengthen your plantings. The same thing applies to your network. There will always be people that are suspicious of your motives or intentions. Perhaps this isn’t somebody that you want in your network.

There will also be people that once you get to know them, you find that you really don’t want to associate with them. It might be necessary to sever all ties with the individual. If you aren’t comfortable dealing with or relating to an individual you are unlikely to want to refer them to another connection. Their behaviour could have the undesirable effect of reflecting on you and your business.

An interesting side note mentioned in the Wikipedia article stated that apple trees grown from seed are rarely sweet or tasty, more on the sour side, which was apparently perfect for producing hard cider and applejack back in those days. Modern day orchardists plant strains of trees that consistently produce a fruit that is desirable and marketable. There is no use in providing all the labour in cultivating a crop if you aren’t able to realize a bountiful harvest.

So, when it comes to business networking will you randomly toss out those seeds or will you take your time and cultivate a manageable amount of productive connections? Your choice … sweet or sour?

Top photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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