In one of many Aesop’s fables about goats, there was a goatherd and his goats. During one outing, some wild goats got mixed into the group. When everyone was herded back home, they followed the group.
The next day a storm came, the goatherd kept the wild goats feeding them well, hoping that they would stay after the storm. On the other hand, he fed his own goats merely enough from starving.
Storm passed, everyone out again, wild goats fled. On their way out the goatherd asked how they could be so ungrateful to abandon him. The goat’s answer? At the end of this article.
Now that you have your star map – an ideal business network (If you haven’t yet, check out how to do so here), what next?
Getting out of the shell to establish those weak ties weren’t easy, it would be such a shame to lose them (And start all over again…). I have a stack of business cards in a drawer next to my desk, that I had collected over the years from various industry conferences that I have attended or spoken at. Most of them, gathering dust. Likewise, my business cards are probably at the bottom of the pile in someone else’s draw if not already lost in the abundance of freebies and leaflets after the event, I never heard from these people afterwards.
Clearly in my earlier years I didn’t see the importance of the follow up, I suppose the stack of business cards for many others, is the rising number of “connections” in your LinkedIn or other social media profiles. In fact, I only started keeping in touch with some because the conversation was memorable or I had a reason to follow up on.
After a few outings I started taking note on people that I meet during these meetings, pulling out that business card and doing follow up emails afterwards. Some of them are now very close business contacts. From sharing opportunities for collaboration to hearing the journey of their kids learning to ride a bike, I’m sure that I will be in touch with them for many years to come.
There are many useful tips in how to sustain business relationships once you’ve established them, below are a few tried and tested:
Create a note for each business contact you make, with the conversations made (For me, that is the back of the business card). Next time you reach out, make reference to something that you last spoke of, sometimes remembering some small personal details goes a long way.
Make that conversation a meaningful one by being sincere.
Be genuinely consistent and present
Make a habit of reviewing your contacts every quarter or 6 months, see who haven’t you reached out to for a while and make an effort to just drop a line.
Too many contacts too little time? Is automation creeping in your mind? Don’t even think about it. Contrary to keeping in touch with a wider customer base, NEVER attempt to automate your regular check-in with business contacts. You can put reminders in your calendar, but the interaction must be genuine, like how you would like to be spoken to.
Lend a hand
Try to offer help where you can. We’re so occupied in managing our day to day to think about anything else but our own needs. A helping hand can be so powerful and memorable than any casual conversation that you pick up here and there, it also builds trust for future work together.
This is why at Myth, we facilitate the possibility for community stellar to ask for and lend out that helping hand to one another.
Being part of a community that regularly interacts gives you a common interest and reason to meet up. I have seen so many amazing collaborations from unlikely alliances born in some of the communities that we’ve built in the past, all because they got out of their day to day and made the effort to participate consistently.
Stick to your star map, loosely
This final tip goes a long way to show that less is more. Because it takes a lot of time and effort to maintain a good business network, it is humanly impossible to keep in touch every 6 months with thousands of people personally.
You will soon either lose it and start mixing John Doe with Johnny Depp – risk being seen as insincere; or you will be spending too much time on meaningless networking that doesn’t bring you tangible benefits. Your success does not depend on how many cocktail parties you attend but what meaningful discussions to make out of going there. What you need is a variety of contacts, not high quantity.
You may have heard of the infamous “six degree of separation” (yes more data literacy!). Here is a very good read from Harvard Business Reviews on the origin of the theory, and how it relates to the business network, using examples such as how Honda uses informal (temporary) social networks within its organization to solve issues.
I shall end this post with the ending of the story that we began with. One of the wild goats said, that the goatherd treated them so well and his own goats so poorly, why would they stay to one day become neglected like them?