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I have built a business from zero. I had nothing when I started: no website, no money, no certainty. Businesses are built through relationships. Any basic sales or business development class will tell you that. If they don’t – get a refund. What everyone fails to explain is how to build a relationship from the ground up. How do you make meaningful connections with people at networking events, tradeshows, or social gatherings?

1. Let me begin with what defines relationship development. Relationships by definition should be reciprocal in nature, which doesn’t mean you keep score. It simply means that each party is invested in the success of the other. Don’t look at everyone as a rung on your professional ladder. If you’re merely pitching your business or asking for something from everyone you meet, your relationships will not sustain time or enjoy much depth. Now we all now I’m a big champion of asking, but do it with care and from a place of worthiness.

2. Be curious. Learn about people beyond their business card. Ask questions and follow up questions and more questions. Not only will you create more meaningful connections, you’ll actually enjoy your interactions at networking events and other activities you’re forced to attend in the name of business development. If I learn more about people and their business I become a better resource to them and this is where a relationship in business begins.

3.  Build your social capital. If you don’t build your own social capital and your own personal brand then you’re always asking others to cash in on their capital on your behalf, which puts a strain on the relationship and places you in the one down position. You’ll build your capital and personal brand by being a connector, a resource, an expert and advocate. Be a good business citizen and the business community will reward you, but if you’re always angling for a favor people will feel exploited and your motives will always be in question.

4. Be creative. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I can see how he would be a great referral source for me, but I’m not sure what I could do for him.” Really? Try harder. Here’s one idea, ASK? Be innovative and expansive. When you do something for a connector he or she never forgets it. You know why? Because most people aren’t even bothering to consider how they can contribute to the relationship. They figure, “hey that person is super successful, I can’t offer anything.” I’ve never had this thought. I always want to figure out what I CAN do for this person.

5. Bring people along. I HATE when I’m at an event and I see someone who is clearly alone or uncertain struggling to connect. A hundred people will ignore that person, DON’T! Make it your business to include that person. Introduce yourself or bring that person into your circle. We’ve all been that person hovering on the outside, be the person who knows how to include. Think about how much that says about you as a team player, a leader, or a human being.

6. Make people feel good. I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in doing business with people who make me or others feel badly. You don’t need to be warm and fuzzy and pass out heart shaped candy, but you do need to be respectful and treat people with decency. People never forget how you make them feel. That feeling is imprinted into their memory. So ask yourself the question, “what do I want people to feel when they walk away from me?” They’ll walk away with your business card, which they might lose, but what really matters is the feeling you leave behind. That is what they will carry with them and THAT’S what they will remember.

7. Change your perception. Many of my clients have created a lot more opportunity once they simply changed their perspective. I once met with an engineer who thought his job at conferences was to “pitch” his organization. He HATED business development until I told him that his job was to be curious, ask questions, and solve problems – things that he was adept at doing. This shift was as my sons would say, EPIC! If you struggle with networking and relationship development, try changing your perception and let me know how it goes!

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