A woman and man shake hands, start networking, and developing understanding through thoughtful conversation.

A woman and man shake hands, start networking, and developing understanding through thoughtful conversation. Photo: Flazingo Photos | Flickr.

In just a handful of paragraphs here, I’m going to discuss the idea of cultivating relationships as it relates to networking with other business professionals. Whether you want to get a new job, meet people in your community, or just get your face in front of other growing enterprises, taking time to network can be an extremely important task.

A recent post at The Street reminds everyone that you should think of networking relationships as those which need cultivation. Providing an elevator speech is only enough to get your basic message across; from there, you have to put in the hard work. This begins by finding out exactly what other professionals need.

When you meet someone new at a conference or dedicated networking meeting, you will only have a hint of what the he or she needs. The only way to find out more is to ask them and spend some time listening. Upon first handshake, you may offer your own elevator speech after having listened to his, but that isn’t the end. You need to follow each speech by inquiring about his interests and professional life. Small talk can be just as important as corporate speech, so be prepared to listen intently to everything he has to offer.

Don’t be afraid to mix up the banter with stories about your own life—both professional and non-professional. The lighter you can make the conversation, the less pressure there will be to sell and the more comfortable you both should feel.

After that introduction and banter, try to offer your new friend some ideas about how you can help him. This can be everything from a restaurant recommendation to an actual business proposal where you offer your services.

Be careful not to jump the gun. Like it says in the introduction, this is all about relationship cultivation. Entering a networking meeting with the mantra “sell, sell, and sell some more” probably won’t get you far. You’ll look pushy and come across as overbearing. However, if you take the time to get to know everyone in the room, you could make some good friends and acquaintances that will remember your name the next time they need your services.

The USA Today sums up this idea nicely:

“Ask questions and listen to the answers,” it says. “Give your time and you will get time back.”

If you go into a session with the mindset that you are just beginning your relationships, that you will listen well, and that you mean to learn what others need and how you can help them, networking can take you far.