Networking. For some it's a pleasure, for others it's a chore, but for the vast majority it's a total waste of time.
That's because far too many of us ignore the most important part — the follow-up.
In fact, according to relationship strategist Zvi Band, those initial networking events are a pointless exercise if you don't see them as part of a longer, more strategic relationship building process.
"People going to networking events are seeking the same outcome as you — to meet people," Band told CNBC Make It.
"But remember, the hard work is not in the initial meeting or LinkedIn connection. It's recording your notes, following through on any action items, and keeping that relationship warm."
Relationships are our most important asset, including in achieving our career goals, Band argues in his new book "Success Is in Your Sphere: Leverage the Power of Relationships to Achieve Your Business Goals." But too few of us pay the necessary attention to building and maintaining those relationships in our professional lives, he said.
Band is far from the first person to highlight the value of strong relationships in business success. Ever since Dale Carnegie published his seminal self-help book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in 1936, business legends like Warren Buffett have espoused the role of relationships and reputation in their careers.
However, as technology disrupts the workplace, those human relationship will become more important than ever, said Band. That's especially true for young professionals, who may not know where their careers are going and would benefit from a network of contacts, he said.
It's therefore important to follow a strategy for building and maintaining professional relationships long after the first meeting. Band said that can be broken down into a seven-step process that views relationships as "capital."
"The overwhelming majority of professionals who have reached the zenith of their potential often attribute their relationships to be their best asset," said Band, who is CEO and founder of relationship building software platform Contactually.
"Just like the dollars in your bank account, the more you pay attention to retain and grow that asset early on, the more you will be able to reap the rewards later on in your career."
Here are the seven steps to building relationship capital:
The first step in building meaningful professional relationships is to make it a consistent part of your work routine, said Band. That could be as a simple as blocking out an hour each day or week to touch base with contacts, send them an email or comment on their post.
As with any other process, it may take time to stick, Band noted. But there are plenty of hacks to cement the habit, such as setting an alarm, associating the task with something else you do — like checking your emails in the morning — and rewarding yourself once the task is done.
Compiling all your contacts into one, clean database will help speed up that process, said Band. Networking sites like LinkedIn are useful for connecting with people initially, but something as basic as an Excel spreadsheet may be the right tool for keeping everything in one place.
Ensure that the database is relevant by updating it every month or so, said Band. However, don't be tempted to write contacts off, he warned — you never know when they may become relevant again. Instead, archive those you have a high confidence you won't work with again.
Some of the contacts in your database will be more important than others. Based on your overall career goals, group them into buckets that reflect those aims and prioritize them according to their urgency.
Don't overshoot though, said Band. The average person can manage a network of 15 close friends and family, followed by 50 casual friends and a further 150 acquaintances. Your list should mirror that — highlighting, for instance, 10 high priority contacts and 20 secondary level ones — and set out reasonable time frames to follow up with each.
Building relationships is all about knowing — and caring — about the other person, noted Band. Take the time to take notes about your contacts, such as where you met, their skills and their interests, and add these to your database to help jog your memory next time you interact.
Sites like LinkedIn and Twitter can be useful tools for building that knowledge bank and keeping up with your contacts' important milestones, he said.
There are no set rules for how frequently you should engage with your network. Rather, you should think about the time you have available and the relative return on investment of each interaction, said Band.
However, being thoughtful about how and when you engage with others — and showing consideration for both their time and your own — will pay dividends, he added.
When you do follow-up with your contacts, make sure you add value by sharing information, contacts and ideas that may be useful to them, said Band. Few things will irritate your network more quickly than a stream of empty "hello" messages — or, worse still, continuous requests.
Finally, use technology, templates and other easily replicable methods wherever you can to ease your workload and make interacting with your network as pain free, and even enjoyable, as possible, said Band.
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