As a business owner you know a lot of people, and you continue to meet new people. This is your network. But what are you doing with it? How often do you connect with people in your network? Do you have a plan to stay in touch consistently and develop your relationships?

If you’ve been neglecting your network it’s time to make some changes. It’s never too late to begin where you are and start connecting with the people you know.

Networking is about giving first. It’s about building relationships over time with people. If you don’t invest in nurturing and growing your relationships with people in your network, then your network will become nothing more than a list of names in a database.

When you stay in touch and develop relationships with people, your business will be top of mind when people need your products or services. This also increases the number of referrals people will give to your business.

To nurture a relationship, you must give it attention and energy. There are loads of ways to connect with people (many of which are very inexpensive). You can:

* Pick up the phone

* Send an e-mail

* Send a note the old fashioned way (otherwise known as snail-mail using the post)

* Meet in person for coffee, lunch or a drink

Finding a reason to connect isn’t hard to do. You don’t have to wait for something big to happen; little things can mean a lot too. Here are just a few ideas:

- No specific reason, just to see what’s new and catch up

- Birthdays or anniversaries

- Sharing an article, book, website, or other resource

How often you touch base depends on the kind of relationship you have with each person. For some people connecting twice a year is perfect and for others every three months is appropriate. You might have monthly contact with people you know quite well and for very close relationships perhaps even more frequently.

Think about different types of people you know and how often you’d like to be in touch with:

> New acquaintances

> Current clients

> Inactive clients

> Former colleagues

> Suppliers for your business

The key to successfully nurturing your network is to create a structured plan. Random acts of kindness and connection never hurt, but to really build a relationship it’s better to have consistent contact.

To make it easy to stay in touch, you need to use a system to keep track of who you want to contact and when. If you rely on your memory you won’t get very far.

You can create a system by setting reminders in your own contact database. Or if you use Outlook, you can use the ‘Tasks’ feature where you can make notes with reminder dates.

The type of system you use isn’t important. What is important is having a system and taking action. Find something that works for you and get started today.

By using a system, nurturing your network will become a regular habit and it won’t seem like such a big task.

Spending the time and energy getting to know your network is an investment with an enormous return. Not only is it fun, it will help you expand your business.

Are you starting to see the value of reaching out to the people you know and building a relationship over time? Make the decision to create a plan to nurture your network and build connections that will thrive over time.

© Stephanie Ward, 2008

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