“We live in the kind of society where, in almost all cases, hard work is rewarded.”
~Neil deGrasse Tyson

I’ve got some bad news for you. Networking is work.

The other day I was chatting with a good friend of mine, Rick. He is a martial arts instructor.  I asked him to tell me a story about how, at some point in the past, networking helped him out. He told me about this gentleman that trained at his dojo. We’ll call him Bob. Yes, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Anyway, Bob and Nick, while not friends, were at least close acquaintances. For one reason or another, however, they were having some tension in the relationship. My friend said that, when that happens, a lot of times that person will leave the school and leave your life. You’ll never hear from them again.

In this, though, Bob was a little different. What he did, was to approach my friend and say, “Hey. You know, I’m feeling this tension. Why don’t we talk about it and see what’s going on there?”. So, the two of them sat down, and had a conversation. They worked out what those little issues were that were bothering them. That meeting of minds turned a failing acquaintanceship into a great friendship. A few years later, my friend decided to start a new business and guess who he brought in as his partner? Bob. The two have had a successful business for the last thirteen years; all because Bob took the extra effort to make sure that this relationship would continue growing in a strong way.

Networking is work. It’s about developing relationships, and relationships require effort. In fact, the stronger a connection you want to make, the greater an effort you are going to have to expend. So, what do we need to know to make this more successful? Here are a few ideas.

You can only build a few connections at a time. Oh, you can meet lots of people, but to really build them and to move them up the scale of connection to make them stronger and stronger, you only can work with maybe three to five.

This was a big mistake for me when I first started networking. Every person I met would go on my spreadsheet, and I would try to establish stronger connections with them. At one point, I think I had about 150 names on that spreadsheet. I was working every day to strengthen those ties.

With all of them.

All at once.

Whew. That didn’t work out so well because you can only spend so much time in any given day working on your networking, reaching out to people, having longer conversations, going out for coffee. It just took too much effort, and after a time I kind of started giving up on it. That’s a dangerous point because when you start giving up, when you stop doing the activities that have built the stronger relationships in the first place, sooner or later those relationships fade and your network dries up. It took me a while, but I found a lot more success when I realized I can connect with many people, but I can only develop a few relationships at a time.

Second, as I mentioned, it takes time. Great connections don’t develop in a five minute conversation about the weather. You have to spend time sitting with them, talking with them, having coffee. You might even have go to some extra effort to find the resources that they need for their success.

If you have children, you know how this works. If you want a strong connection with them, it’s not enough just to say, “Hi,” and “Bye.”, and spend ten minutes with them. It takes real effort – sometimes doing things that you don’t even want to do. I know I spent a lot of time with my daughter Abby just recently working on her science fair project. It was fun and frustrating and occasionally maddening, but, you know? It brought us closer. Make sure you make time for those relationships.

Finally, this is a big one and it’s hard for many of us. You have to be willing to be vulnerable. You actually have to share a portion of who you are with them. That’s how we make friendships. We can’t build strong relationships only on the surface. The foundations depend on us going deeper and finding out more about each other. If you don’t even know whether that person is married, it’s tough to say that you actually have a great connection with them, right?

You also have to share with them what you need. And, not only what you need, the very fact that you do have needs. Have you ever been in a one sided relationship where it feels like either you or the other person is giving all the time and the other person is just doing the taking? That’s not an equal relationship. You have to give them the opportunity to be of service to you as well, and that means you have to be vulnerable and admit that you need help.

Hey, networking is work. Building those connections, building those relationships, that takes effort. That takes time. It takes vulnerability. But, you know, the best connections, the best relationships we build, are really what make our lives worthwhile. It makes us a success. It makes us significant. So, go out, build your relationships, build your network, a few at a time, build them stronger, so that you can have more success.

Photo by Anoop Kumar