Another reason why people turn to networking is to build professional relationships. These might include connections with others in their field, with the goal of building knowledge, fostering partnerships, and enhancing industry standing.
Professional partnerships might start off as connections and can grow into more productive relationships, often leading to collaborations. In these situations, a person might be able to get more exposure in their field, or they might be able to position themselves for upper levels of management.
In other cases, it might be that you want to build professional partnerships that can align with company goals. For example, an executive may want to connect with others executives to support the company's growth and market standing.
What Do You Want
Like any networking strategy, you will want to begin by thinking about what you want from the partnership. The more you can define the partnership, the more you can identify the best possible people to add to a network.
Start by thinking about:
Why the network will help you – Start considering what you want from the network. This might be a specific goal (i.e. developing a system or a product together) or it might be a less specific goal (i.e. working with people you admire in order to learn more about their working style). Figure out what you want so that the other side can understand how they may (or may not) fit into this goal.
What collaborations you may want – This is the part where you might have bigger and loftier dreams. For example, if you want to network with a software development professional, this might be due to a larger goal of creating a new system. If you've had this idea for a while, be specific about what you want to create and then focus on those who have the skills to bring your dream into reality, especially when you don't necessarily have that skill set.
Your expectations in the relationship – Like any relationship, being clear about what you want from the connection is crucial. You need to understand what you feel should happen in your network (i.e. face-to-face meetings, regular phone calls, frequent emails). The more you can define the expectations, the more reason you give the other person to meet you or to tell you what is more realistic for them.
What has worked and what hasn't worked in other connections – If you've already networked with other professionals, consider what has worked and what has not worked. This will help you identify the ways in which this networking partnership might be arranged differently, or not.
The more you can think about the ideal relationship, the more someone will be able to tell you if they're a good fit. Much like dating, you want to define the ideal partner for you, and then seek out those who meet your expectations.
What Can You Give
But since this is a relationship, you need to be clear about what you will give to the relationship. You might want to think about:
What your strengths are – Stop and think about what your experience has given you in terms of knowledge. This thought process should also consider how your knowledge might fit into the needs of others. You need to be clear about what makes you unique and what you bring to the professional partnership.
What your resources are – Consider the things you have to offer someone else who might need them. While not all of your resources might be beneficial to a relationship, the more you can list as being available, the more you can entice someone to connect with you.
What your connections and missing connections are – In addition to resources, think about who you already have in your network. In doing so, you can identify who is missing and who might be a good fit for someone else's network. While you may want to connect with everyone important in your industry, you also need to think about who is missing from your network. Consider the professionals who might be able to help you and seek out those gaps in your network with as much vigor as you seek out those who are similar to you.
You need to be willing in your networking to give to others. When you do, they are not only more open to returning the favor, but they are also more willing to share their resources.
The more you can give, the more it will show you are a professional who is looking at the advantages of a network, and not just someone who is seeking out a favor.
Decide How You Will Collaborate
When you're creating professional partnerships, you need to decide what makes sense in terms of your ability to collaborate. There are often limitations depending on location, knowledge, and placement in the field.
How will you meet? – Whenever possible, try to meet up with your professional network, as this will help you foster a strong connection. If you are not local, then you might consider speaking over Skype or other communication systems.
How will you communicate? – Because you might have a connection that is busy, and you might be busy yourself, you might agree to communicate over email for most of your communication, but then save more in-depth conversations for phone or Skype.
When can you collaborate? – Setting a regular time to talk or to check-in can help to sustain the relationship. Just like any partnership, the more you can count on each other to be there, the more you will trust each other when you need support.
In addition, you need to look at the relationship as one that may need to grow for a while before it can yield benefits. When you are willing to spend time to make things work well, you will create partnerships that are more effective.
If you're looking at longer-term partnerships, it might be wise to build up to that conversation. You can't necessarily expect someone to agree to be a part of your professional strategy when you've first met. Think about how you work together, if you work well together, and if it seems like you are able to produce something.
Even though a person might have all the skills and experiences you want to see in a partner, they may not be someone with whom you can collaborate. Only time will show this reality, so you will want to spend time getting to know each other.
And you might not be the right person for them, which is a consideration to keep in mind. If you are not, then it's time to find someone else who has probably been waiting to hear from someone just like you.
Be willing to let go of partnerships that don't work, as you want to spend your time and your energy on those that have the most promise of success.